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Knee swelling that results from an acute injury or a chronic joint problem can be difficult to manage. A tender, swollen, stiff knee makes even mundane physical activities uncomfortable or impossible. There are many things a person can do about knee swelling at home to quickly relieve symptoms and rebuild strength in the joint. Most medical professionals recommend following the RICE acronym, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If knee swelling is severe or problems persist despite home treatment, an individual should visit a doctor to be evaluated.
Resting and icing the joint are usually the most effective things a person can do about knee swelling. It may not be possible to avoid all physical activity, but resting the knee often and taking it slow and easy when walking gives the joint time to heal. Applying an ice pack several times a day can relieve swelling and help to numb the underlying pain. Doctors typically advise patients to wrap ice in a washcloth or plastic bag instead of applying it directly to skin to avoid further irritation.
Following an injury, compression can help to prevent swelling from getting worse. Elastic bandages and wraps specifically designed to compress swollen joints can be found at most pharmacies and supermarkets. When wrapping the knee, a person should be careful not to pull the bandage too tight. If blood flow is entirely cut off, throbbing pain and swelling can actually worsen. The last step in RICE, elevation, relies on the principle of gravity to improve blood flow. By using pillows or a reclining bed to keep the knee higher than the heart, blood and fluids can drain from the knee and swelling goes down.
By following RICE protocol, most mild knee injuries start feeling better in two or three days. If symptoms persist for more than a week, it is important to talk to a doctor to learn what else to do about knee swelling. After a careful examination, a physician might suggest a prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. If knee pain is severe, he or she can inject a corticosteroid directly into the joint tissue to provide immediate relief. The doctor can also provide special instruction on what to do for your knee swelling in the future.
Immediate, severe knee pain following an injury needs to be assessed at the emergency room. A doctor can take x-rays and other diagnostic imaging tests to gauge the severity of damage and determine what to do about knee swelling. He or she may provide medications, suggest variants on RICE, and schedule physical therapy sessions. Surgery may be needed if ligaments are torn or the kneecap is dislodged.