Exercises to Reduce Knee Swelling

Exercises to Reduce Knee Swelling


Medically reviewed by Misty Seidenburg

The knee joint is a complex structure vulnerable to trauma, injuries, and other conditions that cause pain and swelling. Knee effusion, or swelling, can affect how you move and function throughout the day. Everyone is likely to experience a swollen knee at some point. Exercises to reduce swelling may not cure the underlying condition, but they can ease your discomfort and get you moving again.

What Causes Swelling in the Knee?

The knee joint is surrounded by a thick liquid called synovial fluid, which provides nutrients for joint structures, cushions the ends of bones, and reduces friction during movement.

In some cases, injuries, infection, and other medical conditions can cause this fluid to accumulate around the joint. Excess fluid in the knee causes swelling, stiffness, pain, tenderness, and mobility problems.

Knee swelling can occur due to:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Bone fractures
  • Bursitis
  • Gout
  • Infection
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Overuse of the joint
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Runner’s knee
  • Surgery
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tumors or cysts

If you have intense or prolonged knee pain or swelling with no apparent cause, it’s essential to see your healthcare provider to determine the cause. Left untreated, infections and other conditions can lead to more severe complications.

Treating a Swollen Knee at Home

You can take steps at home to reduce knee swelling. The guiding protocol for treating soft tissue injuries has evolved from ICE to RICE and now to PEACE & LOVE. PEACE & LOVE focuses on immediate care and subsequent management of injuries to enhance tissue recovery for maximum results.

  • Protection: Avoid movements and activities that increase pain.
  • Elevation: Elevate the injured knee above the heart if possible.
  • Avoid anti-inflammatories: Ice and anti-inflammatory medications slow tissue healing.
  • Compression: Use tape or an elastic bandage to reduce knee swelling.
  • Education: Learning more about your condition and load management will help you avoid overtreatment.

After the first few days, it’s time to introduce movement carefully and gradually.

  • Load: Strategic loading without increasing pain supports healing and builds joint strength and tolerance.
  • Optimism: Positive attitudes are linked to better outcomes. Try to focus on your progress and improvement over time.
  • Vascularization: Cardiovascular activity increases blood flow to injured tissues. Check with your physical therapist for safe aerobic activities for your condition.
  • Exercise: After an injury, targeted movement helps restore mobility and strength and promotes optimal recovery.

While exercise can help with recovery, it may not be suitable for everyone. Before starting any new workout program, check with your healthcare provider and physical therapist to ensure these movements are safe for you and your condition.

Stretches and Exercises to Reduce Fluid in the Knee

Are you beginning to sense a theme? Movement is medicine when it comes to knee swelling. Here are some gentle but effective exercises to reduce fluid in the knee and improve flexibility and range of motion.

1. Quadricep Stretch

This stretch reduces pain and lengthens the muscles that support the knee joint.

  • Begin in a standing position.
  • Bend your right knee back and grasp your ankle with your right hand.
  • Hold this position for 30-45 seconds and release.
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side.

2. Hamstring Stretch

This stretch releases tension and tightness in the back of the knee.

  • Lie on the floor with your legs stretched out before you.
  • Place both hands around the back of the affected knee.
  • Slowly pull the knee toward your chest as you straighten your leg to the ceiling.
  • Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Release your leg back down to the floor.
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each side.

3. Seated Chair Slide

Chair slides help increase the range of motion in a stiff knee.

  • Begin seated in a chair.
  • Cross your ankles with the unaffected knee on top.
  • Use the unaffected knee to bend the affected knee backward slowly and gently.
  • Stop once you notice a subtle stretch in front of the knee.
  • Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and release.
  • Repeat this 10 times on each side.

4. Prone Extension Stretch

This movement increases knee range of motion to help with basic functional tasks like standing, walking, and climbing stairs.

  • Lie on your stomach on a bed resting your thighs on the bed and lower legs over the bed.
  • Place a small, rolled towel under the thigh of the right leg, just above the kneecap.
  • Relax and allow gravity to pull the lower leg toward the ground, as it gently straightens.
  • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Do this 5-10 times and repeat on the other leg.

5. Step Up

Step-ups build muscle strength throughout the lower body to support and protect the knee.

  • Begin in a standing position facing a low step or bench.
  • Place your right foot on the step. Hold onto a handrail or wall for balance.
  • Press into your right heel while bringing your left foot forward to stand on the step.
  • Place your right foot and then your left back down to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 15 times and switch sides to lead with the left leg.

Although you are primarily treating the knee that has swelling with exercise, these movements are beneficial for healthy knees, too. Even after excess fluid has subsided, continue this program for solid and healthy knees that are less prone to injuries.

If these recommendations don’t help you relieve pain and swelling, schedule a comprehensive evaluation to determine what’s causing your symptoms and begin treatment for knee discomfort. Find a physical therapy clinic near you.


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Medically reviewed by

Misty Seidenburg

Vice President of Clinical Programs

Dr. Misty Seidenburg has been a practicing physical therapist since 2006 after obtaining her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Gannon University. Dr. Seidenburg completed an Orthopedic Residency in 2009 and subsequent Spine Fellowship in 2010 where she discovered a passion for educating clinicians. Since 2019, she has developed and refined several post-professional residency and fellowship programs and currently serves as the Vice President of Clinical Programs for Upstream Rehab Institute. She serves on several APTA committees to help advance the profession, is adjunct faculty at Messiah University, and is also a senior instructor and course developer for the Institute of Advanced Musculoskeletal Treatments with a special interest in exercise integration. Outside of work, she enjoys challenging herself with new adventures and is currently competing as an endurance athlete.

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