Soft tissue around the knee includes ligaments, tendons, muscles and other tissue that supports the joint. Injuries that may cause swelling around the knee include muscle strains, ligament sprains and tendonitis. The best exercises for swelling around the knee are ones that will improve knee function without causing pain and inflammation. Exercises may include swimming, strength exercises and stretches. However, exercises will vary based on the injury, additional symptoms and other factors.
Swelling of the knee may decrease the stability, mobility and overall function of the knee joint during physical activities; Therefore cardio exercises that are in a controlled environment and are low-impact are best when experiencing knee swelling. Cycling on an upright or recumbent stationary bike and swimming in a pool are excellent cardio options. When cycling, start with a low to moderate resistance level and easy pedaling tempo, and slowly increase resistance and tempo. Perform cardio for 15 to 30 minutes three to fives times a week, increasing duration and frequency slowly as long as you are pain free.
Strengthening exercises may help improve knee function and stability, but should be progressed very slowly to avoid additional swelling and pain. Aquatic exercises in a warm water pool provide a safe environment and natural resistance from the water. Examples of aquatic exercises are water walking, marching in place, knee curls and knee extension. Seated chair exercises such as knee extensions and knee curls with no added resistance are also great starting points. With chair exercises, you may slowly add resistance with ankle weights or resistance bands. For more advanced strengthening exercises, use resistance machines to perform exercises such as knee extension, hamstring curls and hip abduction and adduction. Perform one to three sets of ten to twenty repetitions, two to three times a week.
Stretching may reduce knee stiffness and increase joint range-of-motion often associated with swelling. Perform the hamstring stretch lying on your back on the floor with the affected leg raised off the floor. Place your hands or a towel behind the knee to hold your leg up. You should feel a mild stretch on the back of the leg. Another stretch is the standing quadriceps stretch. While holding onto a chair or countertop, curl your affected knee and grasp your foot with the hand on the same side. If you cannot grasp your foot, curl your knee and place your foot and lower leg on the set of a chair. Hold stretches for 10 to 30 seconds or as tolerated and perform two to three sets daily.
Consult a physician prior to starting an exercise program to reduce the risk of further injury. A physical therapist may also be able to provide additional assistance with your treatment and exercise program. Ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to further reduce swelling when starting an exercise program.