image showing knee bursitis

What is Knee Bursitis – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

  1. What is Bursitis Knee?
  2. What Causes Bursitis in the Knee?
  3. Bursitis Knee Symptoms
  4. How Long Does Knee Bursitis Last?
  5. Diagnosis of Knee Bursitis
  6. Knee Bursitis Treatment Options
  7. Prevention of Bursitis Knee

What is Bursitis Knee?

Bursitis means inflammation within a bursa, which is a small sac of fluid with a thin lining. There are some bursae in the body. Bursae are usually found around joints and in places where ligaments and tendons pass over bones. They can also be located at other locations if there has been significant pressure or friction imposed on that area.

The knee area has numerous bursae and fat pads, whose main role is to reduce friction between the bone and ligaments or tendons, and between the skin and patella. Bursitis is often seen in the prepatellar bursa. The main function of a pre-patellar bursa is to separate the patella from the patellar tendon and the overlying skin, thereby reducing friction on movement and allowing a maximal range of joint movement. However, the superficial nature of the patellar bursa renders it susceptible to injury and secondary inflammation.

The role of the bursa is to reduce friction and allow a maximal range of motion around joints. When there is inflammation of a bursa it is called bursitis, the bursa swells due to an increase of fluid within the bursa sac. If it happens in the bursa located near the knee then it is mentioned as bursitis knee.

What Causes Bursitis in the Knee?

Below mentioned are some bursitis knee causes that may trigger the condition:

  1. Acute direct trauma sustained from a fall or direct blow to the patella during sports
  2. Diabetes mellitus, prolonged use of alcohol, uremia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  3. Infection, commonly by Staphylococcus aureus, caused by abrasion, laceration or penetrating wound
  4. Inflammation as a part of systemic inflammatory processes such as rheumatoid arthritis or a crystal deposition disease such as gout
  5. Recurrent minor trauma caused by excessive kneeling in occupations such as carpet layer, coal miner, electrician, homemaker, plumber, roofer

Bursitis Knee Symptoms

  • Swelling of the kneecap (over, above or below)
  • Decreased movement of the knee
  • Warmth and at the site of the bursa
  • Pain during knee movement and kneeling

Activities such as kneeling, crouching, and repetitive bending may aggravate the symptoms. Sitting still can help relieve them. Knee bursitis swelling is within the bursa and not the knee joint. People often assume that any swelling of the knee joint is due to joint issues, but there is a significant difference between fluid accumulation within the bursa and the knee joint.

It is, therefore, important for you to see one or more orthopedic specialist to be sure about the exact cause of the swelling. It always helps to take a medical opinion from another expert to further confirm the condition.

How Long Does Knee Bursitis Last?

Typically knee pain caused due to knee bursitis should go away in a few weeks with some basic stretch exercises that help to reduce the bursitis knee pain. Your doctor would suggest doing exercises if the condition can be treated by the exercise plan. Your physical therapist would guide to practice these exercises to relieve the bursitis knee pain. Some examples of such exercises are hamstring exercises, quadriceps exercises, and calf exercises.

Diagnosis of Knee Bursitis

An orthopedic doctor would do a physical examination to get an idea about the condition and if required may suggest taking certain imaging tests to diagnose the bursitis knee.

Physical Examination of the Knee

  • A doctor performs a physical examination to detect warmth, swelling and the source of pain.
  • Carefully moves legs and knees in different positions to determine the range of motion of knee joint and identify movement associated with pain.

Imaging Tests to Diagnose the Bursitis Knee

  • X-rays: X-rays may be useful in revealing a bone fracture, tumor or arthritis.
  • MRI: Through MRI doctors can see detailed images of structures (soft tissues ex: bursa) within your body.
  • It helps the doctor to visualize the extent of swelling in the affected bursa.

Knee Bursitis Treatment Options

How to treat knee bursitis may depend on the condition of the patient and would be decided by the orthopedic specialist. Below mentioned are some possible knee bursitis treatment options.


If Bursitis Knee is due to an infection, the doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotic treatment.

RICE Method to Treat Bursitis Knee

The initial and basic treatment method recommended reducing the inflammation and pain caused by Knee bursitis is the RICE method. Rice method stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. In most cases, the condition must be controlled by using this method. But if the patient is not getting relief from this method, the doctor may recommend going for physical therapy as the next step of treatment option.


The doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist who can help you learn some appropriate knee bursitis exercises or stretches for knee bursitis to improve flexibility and strengthen muscles. It may assist you in reducing your risk of recurring episodes of knee bursitis.

Read More: 5 Simple Exercises for Knee Pain Relief

Bursitis Knee Brace

If required, your doctor may recommend using some basic knee braces to provide compression and healing of bursitis knee.

Read More: Comprehensive Guide for Donjoy Knee Braces

Surgical and other procedures of knee bursitis treatment

  • Corticosteroid injections: If the bursitis is persistent and not responding to conservative treatments, the doctor may suggest a corticosteroid drug injection directly into an affected bursa to reduce pain and inflammation. The inflammation usually subsides, but you may experience pain and swelling from the injection for a couple of days.

Read More: Osteoarthritis Treatment Options

  • Aspiration: The doctor may aspirate a bursa to reduce excess fluid and treat inflammation. He or she inserts a needle directly into the affected bursa and draws the fluid out. Fluid aspiration may cause short-term pain and swelling. A knee immobilizer may be required for a short period after the injection to reduce the chance of recurrent swelling.
  • Bursitis Knee Surgery: If you have severe chronic knee bursitis, and it does not respond to other treatments, your doctor may recommend that the bursa is removed surgically.

Prevention of Bursitis Knee

Knee bursitis is best prevented by avoiding direct blows to the kneecap area and by avoiding prolonged kneeling. In such cases, you should use thick knee pads or foam cushions. Knee pads should especially be used by people who have already had an episode of housemaid’s knee, to prevent it from coming back.



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What is Knee Bursitis - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
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