Knee swollen after fall

Healing a Swollen Knee

I would strongly recommend you visit your physician so that a determination can be made as to whether the fluid is in the bursa — which is less serious — or in the joint, which would be of greater concern. Once the diagnosis is made, appropriate treatment can be initiated. Warning signs of fluid in your joint would include a decrease in the knee’s range of motion, as well as fever or increased pain.

Q2. Sometimes my knee is swollen and painful. What could be the cause of my sore knee?

There are lots of reasons you may have sore, achy, and stiff knees. If your knee is swollen and painful, or if it ever gets locked and immobile, you need to see a doctor who can make a diagnosis.

The doctor will look at where your knee hurts — whether the pain is in the back, behind the knee or in the front by your knee cap where you might experience clicking — and when it hurts — whether it’s only at night or constant, whether it hurts only when you exercise or move it in some way, or just when the doctor moves it. Constant pain, particularly pain with passive movement of your joint, suggests trouble with the joint itself whereas if the pain only occurs when you actively move your knee it could be problems with your tendons or ligaments or bursa.

Athletic activities commonly cause ligament injuries. Athletes are known to tear their anterior cruciate ligament (the ACL). Women are at particularly increased risk for this injury and the reason for this susceptibility is not entirely understood. Cartilage (meniscal) injuries or tears also are common in both young and older people and are a common cause of knee pain.

When the large tendon over the front of the knee, the patellar tendon, is inflamed it’s called patellar tendonitis. A sign that you have tendinitis is if the pain in the front of your knee gets worse when you climb stairs and after running up and down inclines.

When you have swelling in the back of the joint, it could be a baker’s cyst or a meniscus tear. If you have a meniscus tear, you usually feel the pain on the inside or the outside of your knee joint.

Related conditions can cause many aches and pains felt in the knees. As people get older, they are at increased risk for developing various conditions, such as certain types of arthritis, and arthritis can cause knee pain. Types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis, and gouty arthropathy. People who are older and heavier and who complain of tenderness to the touch and whose knees look big and boney may have osteoarthritis. People with osteoarthritis tend to have minimal stiffness in the morning — it will last less than 30 minutes — and more so as the day progresses and at night. Folks who have inflammatory arthritis or lupus will have discomfort including stiffness that can last for hours. With rheumatoid arthritis, your knee will usually feel warm to the touch while with osteoarthritis it doesn’t. With osteoarthritis, you may feel a boney enlargement as if there’s bone there and it may be tender but you won’t typically see redness or feel heat. RA can lead to disability.

Swelling around the knee cap suggests fluid on the knee. The question is whether the fluid is inside the joint or not. When you find swelling around the knee cap, it’s usually outside the joint and that happens when you have a condition known as pre-patellar bursitis. The patellar is the large tendon over the front of the knee and there is a bursa associated with it that prevents friction when the tendon moves during extension of the lower leg.

Other disorders that can cause knee pain are bone tumors, which are not very common, and Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is seen in adolescents and is caused by the irritation of the growth plate that is just to the front of the knee joint.

Q3. What could cause knee pain and a swollen leg, swollen ankles, a swollen calf, or swollen joints?

If you see swelling around your knee, besides arthritis and bursitis, it could be a baker’s cyst inside the knee joint that has ruptured. That can give you a lot of pain and swelling in your knee. The pain can go all the way down to your calf or ankle and there can be swelling down to the ankle as well. A blood clot in the veins of the lower extremity also can cause pain — usually in the back of the leg, and swelling. This condition requires prompt medical attention.

If you have bleeding into your knee from an injury, it can cause swelling. People who are on blood thinners may experience bleeding from a slight bang or bruise to the knee.

Some causes of knee pain will go away on their own with rest and self-care. If you are overweight it can put extra strain on your knee and put you at greater risk for knee problems. It is important if you have persistent pain to see a doctor who can make the proper diagnosis and treat your swollen knee pain.

Q4. My brother-in-law has a swollen knee, and it looks like there is fluid inside. Is there anything we can do to treat this at home, and does rubbing it make it worse?

A lot more information is needed in order to give you some suggestions:

  • How old is the patient?
  • Is there pain, heat, or fever in the knee?
  • Is there any redness, rash, or pimples on and around the knee?
  • How long has the swelling been there?
  • Was there any trauma? Did he hurt his knee and how?
  • Are there any other swollen and/or painful joints, and which ones?
  • What does your brother-in-law do by way of occupation?
  • How is his general health?
  • Does he have diabetes?
  • Has he ever been diagnosed with tuberculosis, or been in close contact with a tuberculosis patient?

Removal and examination of the joint fluid can help greatly in the diagnosis.

The worst possible scenario would be infectious arthritis, due to bacteria that invade the joint and cause the formation of pus and, if left untreated, severe damage to the joint structures. At times even septicemia can result, where the infectious bacteria circulate in the bloodstream and may infect the heart valves, which could even cause death. Infectious arthritis usually causes severe pain, redness, and inability to move the joint because of severe pain.

There is one specific type of joint infection, however, that may not cause the acute, severe symptoms that I described above. Tuberculosis of a joint causes milder symptoms but can also be destructive and may be accompanied by tuberculosis of other systems of the body, especially the lungs. All joint infections tend to be more frequent and more severe in persons with diabetes, especially if it is poorly controlled — meaning blood sugar levels are too high most of the time.

Trauma can also produce joint swelling. If acute trauma is the cause, there may be blood in the joint, and that should be removed by a doctor through a needle and syringe. If blood is allowed to remain in the joint, a chronic arthritis-like osteoarthritis (OA) may result.

What causes a bruise?

You’ve had a bump, blow, or knock to your body that was hard enough to damage small blood vessels under your skin. Blood leaks out of these blood vessels, called capillaries, and seeps into the surrounding tissue. For a while you see the traditional black-and-blue colors, which are the trademark of most bruises. As the pooled blood gradually breaks down, the colors take on a full palette of hues, from purple to green and yellow. (Here’s what the colour of your bruise actually means.) Normally, bruises will fade away in 10 to 14 days without any treatment.

Though bruises eventually go away on their own, you can take steps to reduce the pain and encourage faster fading. First, reduce blood flow to the area with ice and compression to minimize discoloration. Next, use heat to boost circulation and help clear away the pooled blood. As long as the skin isn’t broken, a number of herbal ointments and compresses can help erase the evidence of a klutzy moment that left its mark.

Speed the healing process

• Apply ice as soon as possible. If you cool the blood vessels around the bruised area, less blood will leak out into the surrounding tissue. Many flexible ice packs are available, specifically designed for injuries, and most rough-and-tumble athletes have the foresight to keep a couple of them in the freezer. If you’re not so equipped, soak a cloth in ice-cold water and lay it over the bruise for 10 minutes. Or use a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel. Take it off after 10 minutes, and wait 20 minutes or so before you reapply the ice pack so you don’t overchill the skin underneath.

• If you’ve bruised your arm or leg, immediately wrap an elastic bandage around the bruised part. By squeezing the tissues underneath, the bandage helps prevent blood vessels from leaking. The bruise won’t be quite as severe.

• Reduce blood flow to the bruise to minimize discoloration. If you bruise your leg, for instance, and you can take a time-out, settle into a couch or lounge chair with your leg up on a pillow, above heart level. If it’s your arm that’s bruised, try to keep it propped up above heart level whenever you’re sitting. Got a sports injury? Here’s a step-by-step guide to recovery–including how long you need to rest.

Turn up the heat

• After cooling the bruise for 24 hours, start applying heat to bring more circulation to the area and help clear away the pooled blood. Use an electric heating pad for 20 minutes several times a day. Be sure to follow the instructions on the heating pad: To avoid burns, it should go on top of, not under, the bruised limb.
• Alternatively, you can apply a warm compress either under or over the bruised area. A hot-water bottle will work.
• A warm compress of comfrey can also offer comfort. Comfrey contains compounds that reduce swelling and promote the rapid growth of new cells. Make a warm herbal solution by pouring 2 cups of boiling water over 30 grams of dried comfrey leaves or 60 grams of fresh leaves. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. This is for an external use only, so it’s not for drinking. Soak a gauze pad or a washcloth in the solution and apply it to the bruise for an hour. (Off-limits…if the skin is broken or you have an open wound.)
• Vinegar mixed with warm water will help the healing process. Vinegar increases blood flow near the skin’s surface, so it may help dissipate the blood that has pooled in the bruise area. Witch hazel will also do the trick.

Heal bruises with a natural rub

• Arnica is an herb that has long been recommended for bruises. It contains a compound that reduces inflammation and swelling. Apply arnica ointment or gel to the bruise daily. Try Boiron Arnicare Cream, $16 at drugstores.

• Take a handful of fresh parsley leaves, crush them, and spread them over the bruise. Wrap the area with an elastic bandage. Some experts claim that parsley decreases inflammation, reduces pain, and can make the bruise fade more quickly.

• Gently rub St. John’s wort oil into the bruise. Though St. John’s wort is often taken as a capsule or tea for mild depression, the oil has long been known as a wound healer. It’s rich in tannins, astringents that help shrink tissue and control capillary bleeding. For the best effect, start this treatment soon after the bruise occurs, and repeat it three times a day.

• Look for vitamin K cream in the drugstore. Your body needs vitamin K to help with blood clotting. Rub it into the bruise twice a day to prevent further bleeding.

Take dietary supplements to heal bruises

• Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, actually ‘digests’ proteins involved in causing inflammation and inducing pain. Take 250 to 500 milligrams of bromelain daily between meals until the bruise has faded. This enzyme is also the reason pineapple helps with digestion after a meal.

• Use a homeopathic version of arnica. As soon as you get the bruise, start taking one dose every four hours. Take four doses the first day, then reduce your dosages to two or three pills daily as the bruise fades.

The power of prevention

• If you feel like you bruise too easily, you may be deficient in vitamin C. It strengthens capillary walls so they’re less likely to leak blood and make a bruise. Get additional vitamin C by eating more peppers and citrus fruit, and take a multivitamin.

• Increase your intake of flavonoids by eating more carrots, apricots, and citrus fruits. These help vitamin C work better in the body. Grape-seed extract is also a rich supplier of flavonoids. Take 20 to 50 milligrams daily.

• People who are susceptible to bruising may be deficient in vitamin K, which you can get from broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leafy green vegetables, as well as from supplements.

Avoiding injury is just one of 10 reasons why you should be using a foam roller.

Be selective about pain relievers

Don’t reach for the aspirin bottle when you’ve just gotten a bruise, it can make things worse. Aspirin thins the blood, which means it will more easily gather under the skin and make that bruise even more alarming. The same applies to ibuprofen (found in Advil and Motrin). If you think you’re getting too many bruises and you’re also taking aspirin regularly (to reduce your risk of heart attack, for example) talk to your doctor about the problem but don’t stop taking the aspirin on your own. For pain relief, use acetaminophen, the ingredient found in Tylenol. You can also try a natural remedy for pain relief.

Should you see a doctor?

If your bruises appear mysteriously, that is, in places that you haven’t even injured, be sure to see your doctor. Sometimes bruises are the mark of serious conditions like hemophilia, leukemia, and aplastic anemia. Consult your doctor if you have a bruise at a joint and it leads to swelling, if a bruise doesn’t fade after a week, if it’s accompanied by severe pain or fever, or if you get a bruise on the side of your head over your ear (this area fractures easily). Also, there’s a gender gap at work here: Women are actually at higher risk for sports injuries.

How to Care for a Bruised Knee

Knee bruises occur when small blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin break, allowing blood to leak into the soft tissue. This leads to discoloration, swelling and discomfort. The amount of pain and length of recovery depend on the severity and location of the bruise 13. Periosteal, or bone bruises, take the longest time to heal. Knee bruises that occur just beneath the skin — subcutaneous bruises — have the shortest recovery time. Bruises that occur in the muscles around the knees, called intramuscular bruises, are more painful than subcutaneous bruises.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Avoid painful activities until your knee pain decreases and it is no longer swollen. While some discoloration may linger while your injury is healing, these activities can worsen pain and swelling 2.

Apply a cold compress to your bruised knee to minimize swelling and promote healing 2. Use the compress for 10 to 15 minutes, every three to four hours. Do not apply ice directly to your skin — this can cause tissue damage.

Prop your foot up on pillows when lying flat to raise your knee above the level of your heart. Elevation will reduce discoloration and swelling by preventing blood from pooling in the tissue around your knee.

Take acetaminophen for pain. Avoid aspirin or ibuprofen during the first hours unless your doctor tells you otherwise, as these medications can potentially worsen bleeding and bruising. Follow the dosing directions on the package.

Wear a compression garment on your knee to reduce swelling and speed recovery. Leave one finger-width between the garment and your skin to keep from wrapping too tightly.

Use crutches or other mobility aids as directed by your doctor. Be very careful when walking up and down stairs to prevent reinjury of your knee 2.


Seek medical attention if you cannot bear weight on your leg, or are unable to move your knee after injury.

Knee Problems

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • Diagnosis

    Your knee may be FRACTURED and/or you may have seriously TORN some LIGAMENTS in the internal area of the knee.

    Self Care

    See your doctor or go to the emergency room right away.

  • If you fell hard on your kneecap it may be FRACTURED. Otherwise, it may be bruised or you may have PREPATELLAR BURSITIS, an irritation of a small lubricating sac (called bursa) in front of the kneecap.

    See your doctor.

  • Your symptoms may be from TORN CARTILAGE, a TORN LIGAMENT or CHONDROMALACIA PATELLAE, the softening of the ligament or cartilage underneath the kneecap.

    See your doctor. Rest and anti-inflammatory medicine may help relieve the pain.

  • You may have a TORN HAMSTRING MUSCLE.

    Apply ice to the area and use an anti-inflammatory medicine. You may also wrap your thigh with an elastic bandage. Keep the injured leg elevated. See your doctor if there’s excessive swelling or pain.

  • This may be from TORN CARTILAGE.

    Use an anti-inflammatory medicine and rest your knee. If you keep experiencing pain or if your knee becomes swollen, see your doctor.

  • You may have RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, but you may also have a more serious problem, such as RHEUMATIC FEVER.

    See your doctor as soon as possible. He or she will be able to tell what’s causing your symptoms.

  • Your symptoms may be from GOUT.

    Try an anti-inflammatory medicine. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.

  • Pain and stiffness may be caused by OSTEOARTHRITIS.

    Try an anti-inflammatory medicine. Applying heat to tender joints may also help relieve the pain. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.

  • The swelling may be from a BAKER’S CYST.

    Try an anti-inflammatory medicine. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.


    Apply ice to the affected area and rest your leg. See your doctor if your pain is severe or if the swelling is excessive.

  • You may have a hip problem that feels like knee pain.

    See your doctor.

  • For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think the problem is serious, call your doctor right away.

You step in a hole and turn your ankle or your knee. You throw too much and feel a twinge in your shoulder. You try to break your fall with your wrist. Acute injuries are easy to recognize: first comes the pain, and then comes the swelling. Chronic or long-term injuries take weeks, sometimes even months, to develop, but it is the same story: first comes the pain, then swelling.

Swelling is a normal reaction of the body to an injury. Sometimes the body goes overboard and the swelling response is excessive. When this happens it can actually begin to cause more harm than good.

What is swelling?

Swelling is any abnormal enlargement of a body part. It is typically the result of inflammation or a buildup of fluid. Edema describes swelling in the tissue outside of the joint. Effusion describes swelling that is inside a joint, such as a swollen ankle or knee. Hemarthrosis is a condition where there is blood and swelling within a joint. This indicates either a ligament injury, such as an ACL tear or a fracture. Hemarthrosis is determined by removing some fluid from the joint with a needle. Acute refers to swelling that occurs within 24 hours of injury. If the swelling occurs within the first 2 hours, it is probably associated with hemarthrosis and should be checked out by a physician. Chronic refers to swelling that occurs over a long period of time and can be difficult for an athlete to detect, but is very harmful if left untreated.

Why can swelling be a bad thing?

The body always responds to an injury with a predictable inflammatory response, as the first step towards healing. Redness, heat, swelling and pain are associated with this first stage. Redness and heat are caused by increased blood flow. Swelling is the result of the increased movement of fluid and white blood cells into the injured area. The release of chemicals and the compression of nerves in the area of injury cause pain. The pain and swelling can keep the athlete from using the injured part, serving to protect it from further injury. However, often times, the body’s response is excessive.

“Prolonged inflammation and pain can lead to atrophy of the muscles surrounding the joint and a decreased ability to activate the muscles,” states Lisa Kluchurosky, ATC, service line administrator for the Sports Medicine Department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “If not treated appropriately, the swelling can become chronic, or long term. Chronic swelling leads to tissues becoming more rigid and less pliable than their healthy counterpart. Less pliable tissues are more susceptible to further injury.”

What to do about swelling?

In the early phase, remember PRICE:

  • P = Protection from further damage
  • R = Rest to avoid prolonging irritation
  • I = Ice (cold) for controlling pain, bleeding, and edema
  • C = Compression for support and controlling swelling
  • E = Elevation for decreasing bleeding and edema
  • Protection can mean immobilization with a brace, or a wrap, or even just staying off the body part.
  • Rest means not moving the body part in a painful way. Movement is good, and can increase healing, but it should be pain free at this stage.
  • Ice for the first 72 hours, 20 minutes out of every hour. Leaving ice on longer actually reverses the effect it has, and may increase swelling. Chemical icepacks should never be applied directly to the skin, or frostbite can occur. Do not use heat for the first 72 hours; heat will increase the swelling.
  • Compression, with an ace wrap. Your athletic trainer or doctor can show you how to wrap the body part to minimize swelling.
  • Elevation, or resting with the injury above heart level, to encourage swelling to return towards the body, instead of collecting in the extremities where it is difficult to get rid of.

If your swelling is chronic, or lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will be able to recommend medication, exercise or therapy to resolve the swelling. Remember, swelling is the body’s reaction to an injury; if the swelling is still present, so is the injury.

Returning to Play

You are not ready to return to play until all the swelling is gone.

Kluchurosky says, “You should be able to perform multiple repetitions of the activities your sport requires (jumps, sprints, kicks, etc) without an increase in swelling or pain in the injured area before attempting to return to competition.”

Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine specializes in diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries in youth, adolescent, and collegiate athletes. Services are available in multiple locations throughout central Ohio. To make an appointment, call 614-355-6000 or request an appointment online.

What Causes a Swollen Knee (Water on the Knee)?

Knee swelling is sometimes referred to as “water on the knee.” The medical term for this condition is knee effusion. Water on the knee can result from an injury, chronic overuse, or disease.


Knee swelling from mild knee osteoarthritis, non-septic knee bursitis, or a minor injury can be treated at home with over-the-counter medication and the R.I.C.E. formula. Read How to Care for a Swollen Knee

Swelling in a knee joint may limit knee flexibility and function. For example, a person may find it difficult to fully bend or completely straighten a swollen knee, and the joint may naturally bend 15 to 25 degrees while the leg is at rest.1

Depending on the underlying condition, the swollen knee may exhibit no other symptoms or it may be painful, red, and/or difficult to put weight on.


12 Potential Causes of Knee Swelling

This article describes 12 conditions that frequently cause knee swelling, or water on the knee. Included are the most common causes of knee swelling, such as injuries, osteoarthritis, and bursitis, as well as less common causes, such as Baker’s cysts and reactive arthritis.

Whether water on the knee is mildly annoying or painfully debilitating, a person will want to identify the likely cause and treat the symptoms to help mitigate future problems. Chronic or long-standing swelling may lead to joint tissue damage, cartilage degradation, and bone softening, therefore treatment is usually recommended.

1. Injury to the Knee
A trauma to the knee’s bones, ligaments, tendons, bursae, meniscus, or articular cartilage can cause pain and swelling. Serious injury can cause blood to flood into the knee joint, leading to significant swelling, warmth, stiffness, and bruising.

This condition is called “haemarthrosis” and warrants urgent medical care. A patient should also seek medical attention if knee pain is severe, if the affected leg cannot bear weight, or if the patient suspects a bone may be broken.

2. Knee Osteoarthritis
Degeneration of the cartilage of the knee joint can result in an overproduction of joint fluid, causing the knee to swell. A swollen knee due to knee osteoarthritis is typically accompanied by pain.


Overuse and degeneration of the knee joint may cause water on the knee.
Read Knee Osteoarthritis Symptoms

In This Article:

  • What Causes a Swollen Knee (Water on the Knee)?
  • More Causes of a Swollen Knee (Water on the Knee)

3. Septic and Non-Septic Bursitis
Throughout the body are tiny, thin, fluid-filled sacs called bursa that normally protect joints. An inflamed knee bursa can fill with excess fluid, causing swelling, or water on the knee.

The swollen knee may feel “squishy” and may or may not be painful. The most common types of knee bursitis are prepatellar bursitis and pes anserine bursitis.

A bursa that has been infected with a microorganism can become inflamed and fill with pus. The swollen knee may appear red and feel hot. Patients should seek medical attention immediately if they suspect symptoms are caused by septic bursitis.


Septic knee bursitis occurs when the knee bursa is not only inflamed but also infected. Read Septic Bursitis

See How Infection Can Lead to Severe Knee Pain

4. Gout
A painful accumulation of microscopic uric acid crystals in the joint defines a gout attack. Knee swelling may occur rapidly and be accompanied by excruciating pain, redness, and warmth.

See Hyperuricemia – High Uric Acid Levels and Gout

Approximately half of gout cases affect the big toe while other cases typically affect the knee, wrist or fingers.2


5. Pseudogout
Less common but similar to gout, pseudogout is an accumulation of calcium pyrophosphate crystals in a joint.

The accumulation of crystals typically causes sudden, severe pain and swelling. Pseudogout occurs most frequently in the knee.

6. Rheumatoid Arthritis
An autoimmune disease that affects the delicate lining of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis can cause knee swelling, stiffness, pain, tenderness, and redness. Symptoms often occur on both sides of the body, so if the right knee is affected it’s likely the left knee is also affected.

Although the knees can exhibit symptoms, the hands, wrists and feet are more often affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

See Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms

Being active is one of the best things you can do for your joints and the rest of your body. But injuries can happen, and they often involve the knees.

Some of the most common problems are sprained ligaments, meniscus tears, tendinitis, and runner’s knee. If you have an old knee injury that wasn’t properly treated, it may flare up now and then or hurt all the time.

Several other things can also cause knee pain, such as:

  • Bursitis: A bursa is a sac that holds a small amount of fluid that’s under the skin above your joint. It helps prevent friction when the joint moves. Overuse, falls, or repeated bending and kneeling can irritate the bursa on top of your kneecap. That leads to pain and swelling. Doctors call this prepatellar bursitis. You may also hear it called ”preacher’s knee.”
  • Dislocated kneecap: This means that your kneecap slides out of position, causing knee pain and swelling. Your doctor may call this “patellar dislocation.”
  • IT (iliotibial) band syndrome: The iliotibial (IT) band is a piece of tough tissue that runs from your hip down to the outer part of your knee. When you overdo activity, it can become inflamed over time. That causes pain on the outer side of the knee. It’s common among runners when going downhill.
  • Meniscal tear: Sometimes, a knee injury can cause cartilage to rip. These rough edges can get stuck in the joint, which causes pain and swelling. Many times, people will have the sensation of “catching” in the joint when they are active.
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease: This condition happens when you’re young, when bones and other parts of the knee are still changing. It can cause a painful bump below the knee, where a tendon from the kneecap connects to the shin. Overdoing exercise, and irritation at a point on the bottom of your knee called the tibial tubercle, often make this area hurt. The ache may come and go over time. It’s especially common in teenage boys and girls.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is the “wear and tear” type of arthritis. It’s a top cause of knee pain after age 50. This condition causes the knee joint to ache or swell when you’re active. Joints affected by osteoarthritis can also be stiff early in the day.
  • Patellar tendinitis: This means you have inflammation in the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. Tendons are tough bands of tissue that connect muscles to your bones. When you overdo exercise, they can become inflamed and sore. You may also hear it called “jumper’s knee” because repetitive jumping is the most common cause.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome: Muscle imbalance, tightness, and alignment problems of the legs usually cause this condition. It causes knee pain and occasional “buckling,” meaning your knee suddenly can’t bear your weight. It’s not due to an injury. It’s more common for women than for men.

How to Care for a Swollen Knee

If the patient is unsure whether to seek professional medical treatment, a phone call to a doctor or nurse can help determine whether an office visit is necessary.


R.I.C.E. Formula

When home care is warranted, doctors often recommend treating a swollen knee with R.I.C.E.: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

R.I.C.E. may be used in combination with medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, naproxen, and COX-2 inhibitors. Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) will not relieve swelling but may be taken to relieve associated pain.

Rest. Refraining from sports and other activities for 24 hours or longer will give the joint time to repair and recover. The joint should not necessarily be immobile; people with knee swelling should try to gently flex and straighten the knee several times a day to maintain range of motion.

Ice. Applying a cold compress to the knee for 20 minutes 3 to 4 times each day can decrease swelling and promote healing. Ice should not be applied directly to the skin.

See When and Why to Apply Cold to an Arthritic Joint

Compression. Wrapping the affected joint in an elastic bandage (e.g. Ace bandage) may help limit or reduce swelling.

Elevation. Sitting down with the leg elevated on a stool or lying down with the foot elevated on a pillow can help reduce blood flow to the area, thereby reducing inflammation.

Using the R.I.C.E. formula, swelling often goes down in 1 to 3 days. If swelling does not go down within a few days of starting R.I.C.E., or if swelling and pain worsen, contact a doctor.


Arthrocentesis (Joint Aspiration)

When a patient has a swollen knee, a doctor may want to verify or rule out certain diagnoses by analyzing the accumulated fluid. To do this, the doctor will remove fluid from the swollen knee joint or bursa using a needle and syringe. This process is called arthrocentesis, or joint aspiration.

See What Is Arthrocentesis?

Following arthrocentesis, the doctor will take note of the fluid’s color and viscosity and may send it to a lab for further analysis. Determining the contents of the fluid can lead to an accurate diagnosis. For example, uric acid crystals in the fluid indicate gout, and bacteria in the fluid indicate infection.

Arthrocentesis is an important diagnostic tool because the underlying cause of knee swelling will determine the appropriate treatment.

Knee Lump

Both benign and malignant tumors of the skin, soft tissues, or bones of the knee joint can sometimes feel like lumps. In these cases, either a biopsy or surgical removal of the lump can determine whether cancer is present. Cysts, which are fluid-filled, sac-like structures that can form in various parts of the body, often feel like lumps. A Baker’s cyst is a collection of fluid from the knee joint that appears at the back of the knee.

A knee lump can be a sign of injury and require emergency care. It may be accompanied by serious injuries to the joint. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as paralysis, loss of sensation, absent pulses in the feet, the inability to move the knee joint, severe bleeding, or uncontrollable pain.

If your knee lump is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with a knee lump?

Knee lump may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Localized symptoms that may occur along with a knee lump

Knee lump may accompany other symptoms affecting the area of the knee or leg including:

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  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Deformity of the joint
  • Instability of the joint
  • Limited ability, or inability, to move the knee or leg
  • Muscle weakness or spasm
  • Pain, whether at rest or during specific movements, that may be described as dull, sharp, burning, stabbing or aching
  • Redness and warmth of the skin

Other symptoms that may occur along with a knee lump

A knee lump may accompany symptoms that are not localized to the involved area including:

  • Fever
  • Lumps or swelling elsewhere in the body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain or swelling in other joints located elsewhere on the body

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, a knee lump can signal a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Coldness of the feet, with weak or absent pulses
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Loss of sensation in the lower leg
  • Obvious breakage or deformity of the bones
  • Paralysis
  • Severe bleeding
  • Uncontrollable pain

What causes a knee lump?

A knee lump can result from trauma, chronic inflammation, infection, bleeding, or tumors.

Inflammatory causes of a knee lump

A knee lump can be caused by inflammatory diseases that may also affect multiple joints within the body including:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis (inflammation of joints between the vertebrae of the spine)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of the protective, fluid-filled sacs around the joints)
  • Gout (type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints) and pseudogout
  • Infectious arthritis (infection of the joint space)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis (arthritis associated with psoriasis of the skin)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

Infectious causes of a knee lump

A knee lump may be caused by infectious processes including:

  • Abscesses
  • Boils

Traumatic causes of a knee lump

A knee lump can arise related to traumatic events. Traumatic causes include:

  • Bite and sting injuries
  • Fracture of bone
  • Fragments of bone or cartilage
  • Hematoma (collection of blood in body tissue)
  • Retained foreign body
  • Ruptured bursa
  • Sprains and strains

Tumors that may cause a knee lump

Both benign and malignant tumors of the skin, soft tissues, or bone can cause a knee lump. Examples include:

  • Fibroma (benign tumor composed of fibrous or connective tissue)
  • Lipoma (benign tumor composed of fatty tissue)
  • Melanoma (cancer arising in the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, in the skin or other parts of the body)
  • Nevi (moles of the skin)
  • Nonmelanoma skin cancers
  • Osteosarcoma (type of bone cancer)
  • Sarcoma (malignant soft-tissue tumor)

Serious or life-threatening causes of a knee lump

In some cases, a knee lump may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition including:

  • Bone or soft-tissue cancers
  • Osteomyelitis (infection of bone)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a knee lump

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your knee lump including:

  • How long have you felt your knee lump?
  • Is the lump getting bigger?
  • Is the lump painful?
  • Is the lump stationary or mobile?
  • Is the lump the result of an injury?
  • Do you have any symptoms in other joints?

What are the potential complications of a knee lump?

Lumps caused by cancers may have life-threatening consequences, which depend on the type and stage (extent) of the cancer. Left untreated, lumps due to abscesses or serious infections may lead to widespread infection in the body. Knee lumps and associated symptoms can be due to serious diseases, so failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage.

Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Decreased athletic performance
  • Disability
  • Joint deformity and destruction
  • Nerve problems that cause pain, numbness or tingling
  • Permanent or chronic pain
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection

Summit Medical Group Web Site

What is a bruised knee?

A bruised knee is an injury that causes pain and usually discoloration in your patella. Patella is the medical term for kneecap. A bruised knee is also called a patellar contusion.

What is the cause?

A bruised kneecap occurs from a direct injury to your kneecap. This usually happens from falling onto your knee or by being hit by an object.

What are the symptoms?

You will have pain directly over your kneecap. You may also have pain underneath your kneecap. You may have swelling in your knee. You may have pain walking or running. The outside of your knee may become swollen if the bursa is bruised. The bursa is a fluid filled sac just in front of the patella.

How is it diagnosed?

Your provider will ask you about your symptoms and examine your knee. He or she may order an X-ray.

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time until the pain and swelling go away.
  • Keep your knee up on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Take a pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as directed by your healthcare provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Use crutches as directed by your provider.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

While you are recovering from your injury, you may need to change your sport or activity to one that does not make your condition worse. For example, you may need to swim or bicycle instead of run.

The effects of a bruised kneecap may last several days to weeks or longer. It may take longer if the back of the kneecap is injured.

Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent a bruised kneecap?

Most bruised kneecaps are caused by accidents that cannot be prevented. If you are in a sport that has knee protection, be sure that your equipment fits properly.

6 Possible Hard Knee Lump Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced hard knee lump. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


A dermatofibroma is a common skin growth that usually appears on the lower legs, but may appear anywhere on the body. These growths are benign (noncancerous). Dermatofibromas are most common in adults and are rarely found in children.

Symptoms include a hard, raised growth that is red, pink, …

Skin cyst

A cyst is a small sac or lump, filled with fluid, air, fat, or other material, that begins to grow somewhere in the body for no apparent reason. A skin cyst is one that forms just beneath the skin.

It’s believed that skin cysts form around trapped keratin cells – the cells that form the relatively tough outer layer of the skin.

These cysts are not contagious.

Anyone can get a skin cyst, but they are most common in those who are over age 18, have acne, or have injured the skin.

Symptoms include the appearance of a small, rounded lump under the skin. Cysts are normally painless unless infected, when they will be reddened and sore and contain pus.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination. A small cyst can be left alone, though if it is unsightly or large enough to interfere with movement it can be removed in a simple procedure done in a doctor’s office. An infected cyst must be treated so that the infection does not spread.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: skin-colored armpit bump, marble sized armpit lump, small armpit lump

Symptoms that always occur with skin cyst: skin-colored armpit bump

Urgency: Wait and watch

Synovial chondromatosis

Synovial chondromatosis is a disease affecting the synovium, which is a thin flexible membrane around a joint. It can often be confused with tendinitis and/or arthritis.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: joint swelling, pain in one knee, pain in one hip, swollen knee, spontaneous knee pain

Symptoms that always occur with synovial chondromatosis: joint swelling

Symptoms that never occur with synovial chondromatosis: fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, warm red ankle swelling, warm red knee swelling, warm and red elbow swelling

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hard Knee Lump Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your hard knee lump


Warts, also called common warts or verrucae, are small, rough, rounded growths on the top layer of the skin. They may appear alone or in clusters. Common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are contagious through direct contact. They may spread from one place on the body to another simply through touch.

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. Most deep vein clots occur in the lower leg or thigh.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, thigh pain, upper leg swelling, calf pain, butt pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Benign bony growth (osteochondroma)

An osteochondroma is a non-cancerous growth that usually develops during childhood or adolescence. It is a benign tumor that forms on the surface of a bone near the growth plate.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: lower leg bump, upper leg bump, numbness in one thigh, painful thigh lump, hip bump

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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