Knee swelling is a major concern for athletes young and old.  Understanding their swollen knee is an important step to decreasing their pain and regaining their ability to be active & healthy.

When it comes to knee swelling and pain, many view it as the “chicken or the egg dilemma”: “Is my knee pain creating the swelling in my knee or is the swelling the source of my knee pain?”

That’s a great question and I’ll show you a whole new way of looking at your knees to help you quickly answer that question.  Understanding the swelling in your knee is the first step in taking control of your knees.

It’s time for you to stop handing over the responsibility for keeping your knees happy to your doctor, your personal trainer and/or your insurance company.  Those hinges halfway down your legs are YOUR knees.  Let me show you simple tips to determine the source of your knee swelling and what to do about reducing your knee pain.

It bothers me when I hear individuals say things such as;

“I have a swollen knee and no one can tell me why!”

“I can’t run any more because I have a bad knee.”

“My doctor told me to stop running because I have arthritis.  Now I’ve put on 20 lbs and my swollen knee pain is killing me!”

Tip #1 – Not All Swellings Are Created Equal

There are a different types of swelling and determining the source of the swelling is a key tool for sports medicine doctors and athletic trainers.

Knee Effusion – Swelling within the knee capsule or joint.  This is usually due to arthritis, chondromalacia or any injury within the knee joint. 


Bursitis – A bursa is small fluid-filled sac outside a joint that functions to decrease the friction between moving parts of the human body.  When a bursa become swollen, it will dramatically enlarged in a very defined area.  It usually looks much worse than they feel and, initially, an inflamed bursa is more of a nuisance than a source of significant pain.


General Inflammation – This is when the entire area around the knee is swollen but not within the knee joint (effusion).  The distal quads, the back of the knee, the upper shin and/or the sides of the knee are swollen from a source of tissue outside the knee joint. 


Tip #2 – Rule Out The Infection

Infections are BAD.  Recognizing an infection quickly can literally be the difference in simply taking some antibiotics for a week and being put into the hospital, spending thousands of $$ and having a terribly painful knee for months!

An infected knee usually starts with some form of a lesion, boil, spider bite-looking pimple or skin wound.  The wound becomes red, warm, swollen and enlarged over a period of hours to days.  Lastly, your knee becomes very stiff and your entire body responds with a fever and flu-like symptoms.  Recognizing this problem and seeking early medical care is the crucially important.  It’s important to note that not all joint infections originate from a skin wound and they can be the result of less obvious sources.

Tip #3 – Don’t Be Afraid of the “A Word”

Arthritis, often referred to as osteoarthritis (OA), is part of life and it can be managed well if done so properly.  Rheumatoid arthritis is very different.  Unless it’s advanced osteoarthritis and combined with other medical conditions, arthritis should not be the reason to become a couch potato and throw away your Athlete ID Card.  Maintaining knee joint range of motion (ROM), controlling your body weight, utilizing ice/compression, aggressive total body flexibility, cross training and proper footwear can easily reduce your symptoms and keep you “in the game”.

Tip #4 – Reduce the Swelling Before You Increase the Strength

Always remember this: If your knee is swollen, your brain is telling your quad muscles to limit their strength.  It’s simplly a protective mechanism to reduce the stress on the knee joint.  Therefore, reducing your knee swelling will immediately increase your leg strength!  Conversely, anything that you do that increases your knee swelling will be reducing your quadriceps strength.

The goal for smart athletes:  Decrease knee effusion while increasing quad strength.

Tip #5 – Ice & Compression

I know I beat you with this point often but it’s worth repeating:  Ice and compression must be included in your fitness plan.  It controls swelling, decreases knee effusion, reduces knee pain, increases knee ROM and so many other positive factors related to your knee therapy.

I’m very excited about the articles and sports medicine tips I’m presently working on for related to ice and compression, which will show you how to drastically decrease your joint and muscle pain!

Bonus Tip – Listen To Your Knees

Elite athletes do it.  World-class athletes depend upon it.  NFL athletic trainers and physical therapists include it in their therapy programs.  Why aren’t you doing it?

Let’s be honest, you’d have a hard time driving your car without the feedback from your dashboard.  Creating a Body Dashboard in your mind to listen to joints, body parts and such is exactly what the best athletes in the world do to stay healthy and to minimize little issues before they become big problems.

When it comes to your knees, they will tell you 80% of what you need to know to keep your knees healthy.  It’s time to improve your listening skills…as if we haven’t heard that line before?!