Swollen knee soft tissue can be a very painful condition with a multitude of causes. Also known as "water on the knee," injury, disease and other conditions can be the cause. There are some preventive and therapeutic exercises you can do to help with this condition.
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Swollen Knee Soft Tissue Causes
Some types of disease, trauma or overuse injuries can result in a swollen knee. When an excess of fluid gathers around your knee joint, then you have a swollen knee, according to the Mayo Clinic. This condition is sometimes called effusion of the knee joint. Other people colloquially call this "water on the knee."
Diseases and injuries can cause swollen knee soft tissue. If you have torn a ligament, especially the anterior cruciate ligament, or have torn cartilage, overuse irritation or damage or a broken bone, this can cause a swollen knee. Diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or gout can cause a swollen knee. Conditions like cysts, bursitis, tumors and infections can also cause swollen knee soft tissue.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, athletes in contact sports who experienced a lot of falls or blows to the knee are at a higher risk of experiencing swollen soft knee tissue. Sports such as football, basketball or wrestling are particularly risky.
A July 2013 article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine explained that it's essential to determine just how an injury occurred during a sporting activity and whether or not the patient was able to bear weight on his or her leg or not. This knowledge will help to determine what type of treatment and exercise they can do.
For example, knowing whether ligaments or bones were affected and which ones, or whether their knee deformed into hyperextension, varus or valgus, or into a rotary deformity. Direct blows to the front of the knee can damage the patellofemoral joint, a collateral ligament rupture may occur when the knee is hit from the side or a torn meniscus or cruciate ligament tear may occur with a twisting injury.
Symptoms of a swollen knee include swelling, stiffness and pain. Sometimes the stiffness and swelling may make it difficult for you to straighten your leg, depending on severity. The pain might also vary from irritating to very painful.
Read more: Swelling of the Knee After Exercise
Physiotherapist-Recommended Swollen Knee Treatment Exercise
Firstly, the Mayo Clinic recommends that when you have a swollen knee, you should apply the traditional rest, ice, compression, elevation and pain relievers. Avoid bearing weight on the affected leg, apply ice to your knee for 15 to 20 minutes every two to four hours, raise your knee above heart level and use over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
After you have clearance from your doctor or physiotherapist, you may begin exercising the affected leg. Your physiotherapist will probably have exercises they recommend for you to do. Here are some examples of commonly prescribed ones, according to the National Health Services. Repeat each exercise three to four times per day for 10 repetitions each.
Move 1: Heel Slide Flexion
- Sit on a friction-free surface and stretch your legs out in front of you.
- Slide your foot up toward your bum, bending your knee. You can use a scarf or a strap around your heel to help you pull and bend your knee further.
- Repeat on the other leg.
Move 2: Knee Extension Hold
- Sitting on the floor with your legs in front of you, tighten your thigh muscle and push the back of your knee toward the floor while raising your heel slightly.
- Hold this for five seconds and repeat on the other leg.
Preventing Swollen Knee Soft Tissue
The University Health Services of Berkeley recommends building your leg strength in a program that suits your specific sport or activity. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can give you guidance for particular exercises. Make sure to warm up before activity with regular stretching, including the hamstrings, calves, quads and hip muscles.
Be sure to wear shoes that suit your specific sport and fit you well. Change your running shoes after completing 300 to 500 miles of activity. Incrementally increase activity levels by 5 to 10 percent each week maximum, and add only one of the following at a time: additional intensity, speed, distance or duration. In other words, do not try to increase the intensity and duration of your activity both at once. This will help to prevent overuse injuries and swollen knee soft tissue.
The University Health Services of Berkeley recommends exercises such as the hamstring stretch and the hamstring curl for strengthening the knee. Repeat each for three sets of 10 repetitions:
Move 1: Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back on the floor and pull one leg toward your chest to about 90 degrees.
- Straighten your knee as you feel a stretch throughout the back of your thigh and hold for 15 seconds, repeating 10 times.
Move 2: Hamstring Curl
- The hamstring curl is performed standing up with your thigh kept vertical.
- Bend your knee to 90 degrees, hold for 10 seconds and lower slowly.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Prepatellar (Kneecap) Bursitis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Swollen Knee"
- Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: "The Acute Swollen Knee: Diagnosis and Management"
- National Health Services: "Soft Tissue Injury: Knee"
- University Health Services of Berkeley: "Knee Sprains and Strains"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.