5 Tips to Improve Your Swollen Knee

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 MikeRyanFitness.com 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?!

Back Pain Relief from Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the sacroiliac (SI) joints and the axial skeleton often having a strong genetic predisposition. Ankylosing spondylitis is a disease characterized by pain and progressive stiffness. It is part of a group of rheumatic diseases medically known as spondyloarthropathies which actually involves the vertebral joints and shares the human antigen HLA-B27.

Understanding Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the sacroiliac (SI) joints and the axial skeleton often having a strong genetic predisposition. Ankylosing spondylitis is a disease characterized by pain and progressive stiffness. It is part of a group of rheumatic diseases medically known as spondyloarthropathies which actually involves the vertebral joints and shares the human antigen HLA-B27.

Ankylosing spondylitis is considered to be hereditary, even though environmental factors have been suggested. Most people with the HLA-B27 antigen do not develop AS. It is known to affect white males about four times as often as females. Onset typically occurs between the ages of 15 and 45.

In the early stages of the disease, the sacroiliac joints, where the spine articulates with the back of the pelvis, become inflamed and painful. As the disease progresses, ossification is triggered by the Immune system’s defense mechanism. Ossification causes new bone to grow between vertebrae eventually merging them together increasing the risk for fracture. Eventually, ossification affects the spinal ligaments leading to the stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal which can cause neurologic deficits.

Signs & Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

  • Dull low back pain and localized stiffness involving the gluteal and lumbo-sacral areas.
  • Insidious or gradual onset of symptoms experienced by people younger than 40 years.
  • As the disease progresses, pain and limitation of movement becomes more persistent and experienced on both sides of the spine as the symptoms progress up the spine.
  • Stiffness and discomfort of the hips, shoulder and ankle joints arise.
  • Symptoms tend to worsen in the morning and following inactivity.
  • Alleviation of low back pain with exercise or activity.
  • Patients may complain of difficulty in breathing or chest tightness.
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome (specific nerve compression) may develop causing bilateral lower extremity numbness, weakness, and incontinence.

Professional Treatment for Ankylosing Spondylitis

  • Treatment for Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is aimed at relieving the patient’s symptoms and preventing spinal deformity which mainly includes physician prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • Adhere to a physical therapy program that will strengthen back muscles, improve posture, increase flexibility and range of motion, and techniques to enhance breathing.
  • Consistently participate in activities that help alleviate stiffness. Warm baths, stretching activities performed in bed prior to rising and aquatics activities such as swimming and pool running are strongly advised.
  • Management may also include the use of drugs that block cell growth (cytotoxic drugs) in people who do not respond well to corticosteroids.
  • Non-surgical treatment such as traction and/or bracing are used to manage spinal fractures resulting from AS.
  • Corticosteroid therapy and TNF-alpha inhibitors have been FDA-approved for the treatment of Ankylosing Spondylitis and can lead to stunning improvement in the inflammatory and systemic nature of AS.

Asking the Right Questions Like a Pro

Here’s what a smart pro athlete would ask his/her sports medicine specialists to ensure a fast and safe return to sports:

  1. What is a Schober test?
  2. How early should Ankylosing Spondylitis be treated with a Tumor Necrosis Factor-blocker?
  3. What associated symptoms can I expect with this disorder?
  4. My blood workup tested positive for HLA-BA27 antigen, what are my chances of contracting AS?
  5. What does the Gaenslen’s maneuver measure?
  6. What is a “Bamboo Spine” and how do I prevent it?
  7. Can you elaborate more on the use of a halo brace or a TLSO device and how will they help me?

Elite Sports Medicine Tips from Mike Ryan

  • IMPROVE YOUR RANGE.  Regular daily exercise is an effective method to deal with symptoms of AS. Complete body flexibility exercises are needed to maintain joint motion from head to toe.
  • WATCH YOUR WEIGHT. Maintain your optimum weight and embracing a healthy diet will minimize the stress on your spine.
  • STAY HOT. Use a heat pack and warm baths help to increase the blood flow to the spine and surrounding tissue to help reduce pain and stiffness.
  • AIM TO BE ACTIVE. It is very important to understand that excessive rest is not the best solution to decreasing your stiffness. Maintain an active lifestyle.
  • ALWAYS WATCH YOUR STEP. Sports carrying a higher risk of falls such as skiing as horseback are best avoided to minimize the risk for spinal fractures.
  •  GAIN BY REDUCING THE PAIN.  Deep tissue massage, ultrasound, passive stretching, heat/ice and acupuncture may all have a positive role to play in reducing pain and maintaining mobility.
  • SUSTAIN THE FLOW BUT KEEP IT SLOW. Swimming, dancing and exercises to improve muscle tone, strength and flexibility are ideal while rapid twisting movements should be avoided.