Water on the knee, also called knee effusion, can be a symptom of several different conditions, including infection, injury or gout, tumor or osteoarthritis of the knee joint. The knee is a complex joint and it is possible to injure one of the bones, muscles, tendons or ligaments in the joint, causing swelling, stiffness and pain. The fluid in the swelling could be tissue fluid, synovial fluid or even pus if there is an infection. Risk factors are age, sports participation, overuse or obesity.
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See your physician for a diagnosis. Normal fluid in and around the knee is usually unnoticeable. When you can see and feel swelling, something is wrong. Treatments vary, depending on the cause of the swelling, so an accurate diagnosis is the first step in treating the swelling on your knee. According to an article in "American Family Physician," the most common traumatic causes of knee effusion are injuries to ligament, bone or meniscus and overuse. The most common disease causes are infection, arthritis, gout and tumor.
Take an antibiotic if your doctor determines there is an infection in your knee. Infection is a contraindication for massage, so avoid massaging the knee until the infection has healed. Your doctor may recommend ice packs to reduce inflammation and swelling.
Use RICE-- rest, ice, compression and elevation -- when the swelling is due to overuse or strain. Ice helps to reduce pain and swelling, rest allows the knee to heal and compression with elastic bandages or an elastic knee brace helps to support your knee. To elevate the knee properly, support your knee with a small pillow and your ankle with a slightly larger pillow so that gravity can assist the drainage of fluid from your knee.
Use pain medication or corticosteroids for osteoarthritis as recommended by your physician, who may also recommend heat packs rather than ice, since this is a chronic condition. Gentle massage may reduce the inflammation of acute arthritis and your physician may recommend glucosamine, which shows some benefit for osteoarthritis according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Appropriate exercise is important when you have arthritis, so you will want to discuss that with your doctor as well.
Use gentle massage to reduce the swelling around your knee, if not contraindicated. Using light pressure, move the skin over your knee in gentle circles to stretch the connective tissue just under the skin, where the majority of your lymph vessels are located. Continue until the skin is softer, warmer and stretches more easily. Then stroke with alternating hands from the knee to your hip joint where lymph nodes are located. Brushing hand over hand like this reduces the edema around your knee.
Things You'll Need
2 small pillows, one slightly larger than the other
Elastic bandage or elastic knee brace
Over the counter pain medications
Antibiotics as prescribed by your physician
Non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming are easiest on your joints.
Don't self-treat if pain and swelling persist for more than a few days, especially if you can't relate the pain and swelling to a specific injury. Get an accurate diagnosis first to rule out serious conditions such as a tumor or torn meniscus as soon as possible.
- American Family Physician: Acute Knee Effusions: A Systematic Approach to Diagnosis; Michael W. Johnson; Apr. 15, 2000
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Glucosamine
- MayoClinic.com: Water on the Knee
- University of Washington Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine: Fluid on the Knee
- Pediatric Emergency Care: Approach to Knee Effusions; DJ Matheson, SJ Teach; Nov. 2009