How to Tell if Your Knee Swelling is a Serious Joint-Destroying or a Potential Life-Threatening Problem and What You Should do About It – Right Now!

If your knee is swollen, the first and most important thing to do is determine is whether or not it’s a potentially serious problem.

Serious means joint-damaging or life-threatening.

Please don’t ignore your knee swelling and end up destroying your knee – or worse – dying prematurely.

A large swollen knee is usually a serious symptom and you should seek immediate medical help for proper diagnosis and urgent treatment.

Serious Swelling with Knee Pain

Here are four causes of knee swelling that are potential medical emergencies requiring a proper diagnosis and urgent treatment – get to the hospital right away!

  1. A swollen knee that is red and hot – with or without a fever
  2. Your knee swells up like a balloon from a knee injury
  3. Both your knee and ankle are swollen
  4. A large swollen knee with no history of knee injury or trauma

Reasons for Serious Swelling

Common serious causes of swollen knee include –

  1. infection, including from STDs
  2. gout or pseudo-gout
  3. fracture of the thigh bone (femur), leg bones (tibia and fibula) and knee cap (patella)
  4. dislocated kneecap (patella)
  5. a tear in the joint covering (synovial membrane)
  6. tumor or cancer
  7. blood clot (Deep Vein Thrombosis)
  8. cruciate ligament tears – either anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear
  9. Osteochondritis Dessicans
  10. patellar tendon tear (Osgood-Schlatter disease in teenagers and kids) with possible tendon rupture
  11. quadriceps tendon tear or rupture
  12. inflammatory arthritis like Rheumatoid arthritis
  13. quadriceps or hamstring muscles tear


What Causes Knee Swelling?

Knee swelling in the joint can be the result of either extra joint fluid or blood – or both!

Blood in the joint is a serious problem that usually comes from a damaged blood-vessel-rich structure – a torn joint covering (the synovial membrane); a fractured bone; or, a torn anterior or posterior cruciate ligament.

Extra joint fluid is usually the result of inflammation. Knee swelling outside the joint is less common and is usually from bursitis; or, blocked venous or lymph return.

Swollen Knee Treatment

Once the very serious causes of knee swelling have been ruled out (see above), here are some treatment options-

Ice with compression
(like a tensor bandage) for 15 minutes, 4 to 6 times a day

Rest – if possible. Try a small pillow under your swollen knee to see if that eases your pain

Elevation – make sure your foot is above the level of your heart when you are lying down (because this increases the venous blood flow back to the heart).

Drainage
– sometimes a large swelling needs to be drained with a needle and syringe because, on its own, the knee joint will rid itself of the extra fluid (especially blood) quite slowly.


Natural Anti-Inflammatories

Warning! If at all possible, avoid a cortisone shot – cortisone softens and weakens your cartilage, thereby accelerating arthritis. A swollen knee needs a proper, quick accurate diagnosis.


Doctors today depend too heavily on MRIs for basic diagnosis. The problem there is that clinical studies show (and real-world experience confirms) that MRI scans are at best, only 90% accurate.

The best way to diagnosis a swollen knee is by a proper history, physical and joint exam which may then be confirmed with the appropriate investigations.

Please always get your swollen knee examined by a qualified medical professional like a sports medicine doctor.