Knee swelling can often be treated at home with rest, ice, and other remedies. But some symptoms may indicate a more severe injury or health condition.

Swelling can be the body’s response to damage to a part of the knee, an overuse injury, or a symptom of an underlying disease or condition. Knee swelling happens when fluid collects in or around the knee joint.

Another term for a swollen knee is knee effusion or water on the knee. You may need medical attention if:

  • swelling continues for more than 3 days
  • swelling worsens
  • you have severe pain along with the swelling or cannot put weight on your knee
  • you have other concerning symptoms, such as a fever of 100.4°F or higher or numbness

Here are eight ways to relieve knee swelling quickly at home.

Try resting your knee. Avoid sports and other weight-bearing activities for 24 hours or more to give your knee a chance to heal.

But it’s still good to gently straighten and flex your knee multiple times a day. This can help the knee maintain a range of motion.

You can try applying a cold compress to the knee for 15–30 minutes every 2–4 hours for the first 2–3 days after a knee injury.

This can help reduce pain and swelling. Remember to use a towel between the ice pack and your skin to avoid damaging your skin.

However, swelling is part of the healing process, and over-icing your swollen knee may make recovery take longer, according to a 2021 review of research.

You can wrap a knee compression sleeve around your knee snugly to prevent fluid from getting worse. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly, which may cause swelling in the lower leg and foot.

You can sit or lie down with your leg lifted while you ice your knee. Put your leg up on an elevated stool or pillow to decrease blood flow to the affected knee. This helps to reduce inflammation.

Make sure your leg is lifted higher than your heart level to reduce swelling.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help with knee pain. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are readily available options at grocery and convenience stores, as well as online.

While acetaminophen is just a pain reliever, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen (Aleve) are also anti-inflammatory. These medications belong to a class known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It’s good to use an anti-inflammatory pain reliever to help relieve knee swelling.

If you take other medications, such as certain medications for blood clots or depression, it’s best to talk with a doctor or pharmacist about whether taking NSAIDs is safe for you. They can have interactions with other medications that can lead to serious side effects.

In cases where a medical intervention is necessary, a doctor may give you a prescription pain reliever or an oral corticosteroid, like prednisone. There are also steroids that can be injected directly into the knee joint. These can help reduce inflammation.

After 72 hours of intermittent icing, you can try adding heat. Consider taking a warm bath or using a heating pad or a warm towel for 15–20 minutes a few times a day. If the swelling becomes worse, stop the heat.

Massaging the knee may help fluid drain from the joint. You can give yourself a gentle self-massage or get a massage from a professional.

For a self-massage, you can choose to apply lubrication to your knee with castor oil. Not only will the oil help your hands to easily glide over your knee, but also the topical application of castor oil may help reduce pain and inflammation.

Once the injury has healed a bit, you can do isometric exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your knee. When the muscles around a joint are strong, they can help relieve joint pressure. These exercises can also help reduce fluid in the knee.

It’s often a good idea to keep your knees strong as a preventive measure against knee damage and swelling. Certain exercises can be helpful for maintaining strong knees, including:

  • flexibility training
  • weight training
  • low impact exercises such as water aerobics and swimming

Maintaining a healthy weight can also help prevent unnecessary wear-and-tear damage that can result in a swollen knee.

While a common reason for knee swelling is inflammation from overuse, major injuries can also cause fluid buildup. These can include:

A disease or condition can also be the root cause of a swollen knee. Underlying causes can include:

While most knee pain can be treated at home, knee swelling could also be a sign of a major injury or the symptom of an underlying medical condition.

It’s important to speak with a doctor if:

  • you have severe swelling or pain
  • you can’t fully straighten or flex your knee
  • your condition isn’t improved by rest, compression, and elevation within a few days
  • you have a fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • your knee turns red and feels warm to the touch
  • your knee cannot bear weight and feels like it will “give out” (this can be a sign of a torn ligament)
  • you have a sharp pain when you rise from a squat position (this can be a sign of a torn meniscus)

Rheumatoid arthritis and gout can also cause swelling. If you have symptoms like fever or redness, it’s important to get medical care.

Some significant knee damage may require surgery. Reconstruction procedures can range from minimally invasive arthroscopic repairs to knee replacements.

How long does it take a swollen knee to go down?

The time it takes to relieve a swollen knee can depend on the cause of the swelling. You may have relief from swelling due to muscle injuries in a few days. More severe injuries or health conditions may require treatment to relieve swelling.

Will drinking water help a swollen knee?

Staying hydrated is important for your overall health and body function but is unlikely to relieve a swollen knee.

Is it better to rest or walk with knee pain?

If you have knee pain, resting may help relieve it. Once the pain has lessened, you can try incorporating gentle movement and stretching. But if you experience pain with movement, it is best to stop the activity and talk with a medical professional.

For many cases of knee swelling, you can help ease inflammation and reduce swelling at home. The use of OTC anti-inflammatory medications can also be helpful.

If you’re concerned about swollen knees, have chronic knee pain, or are experiencing other symptoms, seek the help of a medical professional.