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What Can Cause Knee Inflammation?

A diagram of the knee, including ligaments.
A person with knee inflammation using an elastic bandage.
A close up of the knee, with the ligaments in pink.
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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2014
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Knee inflammation can be caused by a mild injury, a serious injury, arthritis, or bursitis. In addition, knee inflammation can be related to excess fluid in the knee joint, that can lead to decreased mobility and pain if it is not properly treated. Inflammation in both knees could indicate a systemic medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis. Resting the knee joint until the inflammation subsides is typically recommended by most health care professionals.

After the pain subsides, gradual movement can be resumed. Also, icing the knee up to four times a day can dramatically reduce swelling and alleviate pain. The application of heat is generally not recommended for knee inflammation because it can promote swelling. Infrequently, knee inflammation can be caused by a joint or bone infection that will require antibiotic therapy and sometimes fluid drainage. In certain cases, the joint fluid will be drained and analyzed to test for blood and microbes.

Anti-inflammatory medications are also recommended to reduce pain and swelling of the knee, regardless of the cause. If arthritis is the cause of knee inflammation, injections of corticosteroids may be prescribed. Although effective for knee inflammation, corticosteroids can cause side effects such as irritation, weight gain, fluid retention, and swelling of the face.

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Those suffering from inflammatory conditions of the knee who are intolerant of anti-inflammatory medications can take acetaminophen. Even though acetaminophen is helpful in reducing pain, it does not reduce inflammation. Analgesic ointments can also help reduce knee inflammation and pain, and are generally well tolerated by most people.

When a knee injury occurs, diagnostic medical tests are recommended to determine the nature and severity of the injury. A conventional x-ray can detect an injury to the knee cap, but it is usually ineffective in detecting injuries of the cartilage, muscles, and tendons. In cases of severe crushing injuries, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage. When a knee injury occurs, prompt medical evaluation and treatment generally results in a better prognosis.

Other treatments for knee arthritis or bursitis include weight management, physical therapy, and mild exercise. Excess weight places stress on the knee joints, worsening pain and inflammation, therefore losing weight helps minimize stress on the joints. Exercise also promotes blood flow and circulation, hastens healing, and encourages relaxation. A comprehensive physical therapy program can restore range of motion, mobility, and help decrease pain and swelling.

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