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What Can Cause Swelling Above Knee & What is its Treatment?

Swelling above knee is a fairly common condition and observed when knee joint or the soft tissues surrounding knee joint is inflamed or injured. Swelling above or over the knee joint is a condition often observed following the knee joint disease. It is sometimes also referred to as water on the knee.

Joints are junctions at which two bones meet with the help of soft tissues or surrounding structures. Swelling above knee indicates accumulation of fluid around the knee joint. Synovial fluid is normally present in the knee joint for lubrication, protection and nutrition of the cells in the joint.1 However, excessive accumulation of fluid in the knee joint causing knee swelling may mean some disturbance in the normal structure and functioning.

What Can Cause Swelling Above Knee?

What Can Cause Swelling Above Knee?

Swelling above knee appears like a puffed knee and the accumulation of fluid may give it a bulging appearance.2 Swelling above knee or swollen knee is often accompanied with pain, discomfort and inability to move the knee joint properly. The knee may appear red, warm to touch and weight bearing on the knee, walking and other activities may be difficult. Complete bending or straightening of the knee may be difficult and painful on account of swelling above knee.

There can be many causes for swelling above knee, which includes:

Swelling above Knee Caused Due to Injury or Trauma: – Any injury or direct trauma to the soft tissue surrounding knee joint can result in swelling above the knee. People engaged in sports, adventure games, or an accident can experience swelling above the knee joint due to injuries to soft tissues resulting in ligament strains, tendon injuries, muscle strains, cartilage and meniscus injuries. Injuries to the knee cap and soft tissues of the knee cap can cause swelling above the knee. Serious injuries like fractures or dislocations of knee cap and knee joint too can cause swelling above the knee joint because of collection of blood. If the pain is very severe with inability to move the knee, then immediate medical attention should be sought.

Swelling above Knee Caused Due to Joint Related Conditions: – Conditions affecting the joints can cause swelling in and above the knee joint. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the aging population due to wear and tear of the joints. Other forms of arthritis too can cause swelling above the knee. Gout and pseudogout are conditions in which mineral crystals get accumulated in the knee and an acute episode can trigger knee pain and swelling.

Swollen Knee Joint Caused Due to Bursitis – Tiny fluid filled sacs called bursa are present in most of the joints and when those around the knee get inflamed, can cause swelling above the knee.3 Post traumatic pre-patellar bursitis is very common condition results in swelling above knee joint, while bacterial infection of bursa too can cause septic bursitis, both of which can lead to knee swelling. Infected swelling may be more serious and needs immediate medical care.

Swelling above Knee Caused Due to Autoimmune Conditions – Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory joint disease, which is an autoimmune disorder affecting various joints and connective tissues in the body. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune conditions affecting the joint lining or soft tissues around it can cause swelling above the knee.

Swelling above Knee Caused Due to Joint Infection – Certain bacterial or viral infections that spread to the knee joint or isolated only in knee joint cause swelling above the knee. Septic arthritis, tuberculosis and other infections can commonly spread to the knee joint.

Other Common Causes Knee Swelling– Swelling above the knee can sometimes result from excessive use of knee joint resulting in strain on the muscles around the knee joint. Initiation of rigorous exercises, participation in new sports or professional dance activities that involves more of knee joint movement, running, sitting, squatting or jumping can cause knee swelling. Children of growing age, may sometimes experience pain and light swelling above the knee, probably due to knee joint growth plate injuries. Muscles of thigh ends near the top of the knee joint, any strain or injuries to these muscles results in swelling above the knee. Children and young adults with foot abnormalities like flat feet and knock knees can have swelling above the knee with overuse of knee joint.

What is the Treatment for Swelling Above Knee?

Swelling above the knee can sometimes be a medical emergency when caused by fracture, dislocation or infection of knee joint. Most of the times injury or damage caused to the soft tissues around the knee joint need proper rest to promote healing. Injuries to the knee joint and soft tissues generally take time to heal and need immobilization.

The conservative treatment most often advised for swollen knee is a formula of RICE (R- Rest, I-Ice, C-Compression, E-Elevation) therapy. Anti-inflammatories and pain-killers can help. Arthritis and joint related conditions may require additional treatment.

Fluid aspiration (arthrocentesis) may be performed if swelling above the knee is severe and not infected. It gives relief in pain following reduction in size of knee swelling. The fluid after aspiration is sent for lab studies and used as a diagnostic tool to detect the exact cause of inflammation. Depending on the fluid examination, further treatment may be planned. Knee joint infections is treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Autoimmune disease and joint inflammation is treated with corticosteroid treatment. Calcium and vitamin D supplements may be given, if found appropriate.

Preventive Measures

Wear sports and safety gears while playing and participating in sports. Proper warm-up before sports, games and dance can help prevent injury to muscles and soft tissues around the knee. Perform regular stretches and strength training for muscles around the knee to avoid over stretching of muscles and to improve strength and flexibility of the knee joint.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 8, 2019

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