How Do You Treat a Knee Effusion
Knee effusion occurs when excess fluid collects around the knee joint. Treatment for knee effusion depends on the underlying cause

Knee effusion occurs when excess fluid collects around the knee joint. Treatment for knee effusion depends on the underlying cause.

Learn about treatment, causes, symptoms, and prevention.

What are home remedies for knee effusion?

  • Compression support: Moderate knee compression provides support and improves circulation, reducing swelling, pain, stiffness, and fluid buildup. Options include:
    • Knee sleeves: Help with swelling and are generally safe to use while engaging for a wide range of activities.
    • Knee brace: Good for more severe injuries that have resulted in knee instability. Some braces lock the knee into a specific position or provide lateral stability.
    • Kinesiology tape: Taping the knee can help manage symptoms and provide gentle support.
  • Massage therapy: Massage can aid in the drainage of fluid that has accumulated within the knee joint. Make sure to not apply too much pressure over the affected area. You can use a variety of massage techniques, such as rubbing and applying prolonged direct pressure, called trigger point release.
  • Cold therapy: Ice packs can help treat pain and swelling. To avoid skin damage, apply in 20-minute intervals and use a light barrier between your skin and the cold pack.
  • Heat therapy: If it has been more than 72 hours since the injury or onset of swelling, you can alternate cold with heat therapy for 10-20 minutes. Heat can reduce pain but can also cause swelling, so it is best to alternate with cold therapy to reap the benefits of both.
  • Elevation: Keeping your knee elevated above your heart can help keep fluid moving out of the joint and prevent it from accumulating. 
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: While medication should not be used as a long-term solution, it can help manage knee effusion symptoms. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can provide temporary relief while you recover.
  • Cortisone injections: Cortisone injections can reduce pain and swelling and are often combined with aspiration (draining of fluid). 
  • Exercise and rehabilitation: Regular exercise that keeps the knee moving can help prevent excess fluid buildup. It is critical to keep the knee as flexible as possible with a full range of motion to avoid unnecessary long-term complications.

What are medical treatment options for knee effusion?

Treatment options depending on underlying disease or injury:

  • Osteoarthritis: Draining excess fluid from your knee joint can alleviate pressure. Corticosteroid injections may also help treat inflammation.
  • Gout or pseudogout: Gout can cause crystals to form in the joints, which can lead to inflammation. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you manage these conditions.
  • Infection: Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat an underlying infection. Repeated aspiration of the infected joint or surgery may be required.
  • Arthroscopic knee surgery: An orthopedic surgeon may examine the inside of your knee for signs of damage and make necessary repairs..
  • Joint replacement: Most people with knee osteoarthritis do not require surgery. However, if bearing weight on your knee joint becomes nearly impossible, surgery may be advised.

When is surgery for knee effusion required?

Surgery may be required when other treatments for knee effusion do not work. Your doctor can evaluate the damage to your knee and determine whether surgery is required. Cases that may require surgery include:

  • Torn meniscus repair
  • Torn anterior cruciate, medial collateral, posterior cruciate, or lateral collateral ligament repair
  • Osteoarthritis (total knee replacement)
  • Bone spur or plica (connective tissue of the joint capsule) removal
  • Muscle or tendon tear repair
  • Fluid removal for a baker’s cyst
  • Trauma or fractures

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What causes knee effusion?

Causes of knee effusion include:

Risk factors of knee effusion include:

  • Age (younger people are more prone to knee injuries)
  • Sports that involve knee movements
  • Excess weight, which puts additional strain on the knee joints
  • Osteoarthritis or other joint diseases

What are symptoms of knee effusion?

Symptoms of knee effusion include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the knee joint
  • Swelling and redness around the knee joint
  • Warmth around the affected area
  • Joint stiffness
  • Restricted knee movement

Soft tissues typically heal in 6-12 weeks, but cartilage injuries can take longer due to poor blood supply. Since fluid in the knee can indicate a serious problem, talk to your doctor if you notice unexplained or persistent knee swelling.

Can knee effusion be prevented?

While you can’t always avoid knee trauma, you can take precautions, such as wearing a knee brace to protect your knee joint during physical activity.

If you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout, seek medical treatment to manage the condition. If you are overweight, try to lose weight gradually to avoid straining your knees.

Since swollen joints can lead to long-term problems if left untreated, the sooner you seek medical attention, the better.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/9/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Johnson MW. Acute knee effusions: a systematic approach to diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 15;61(8):2391-400. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0415/p2391.html

Gerena LA, DeCastro A. Knee Effusion. [Updated 2021 Apr 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532279/

Sparrow Health Systems. Swollen Knee. https://www.sparrow.org/departments-conditions/conditions/swollen-knee