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Best Remedies for Knee Bursitis Relief

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT September 04, 2020 0 Comments

When working to treat and relieve knee bursitis, it's best to start early. Unless symptoms are severe, this will most often start with home remedies and then can expand from there as needed. Keep reading to find the best options for your needs.

Home Remedies

Starting knee bursitis treatment at home is ideal since it can be started quickly and efficiently.  The goal with home remedies is to manage pain, reduce swelling, and promote healing. Then, as symptoms improve the knee can be slowly returned to its normal activities.

  • RICE

    Keeping “RICE” in mind will help you effectively manage pain and swelling from home.

    Rest

    Rest is a relative term. If your symptoms are mild, resting the knee may simply mean avoiding higher level movements that cause the knee pain for a few weeks. On the other hand, if symptoms are more severe it may require more extensive rest with use of crutches, a cane or minimizing weight bearing through the affected leg for some time.

    Ice

    Ice is a great way to manage both swelling and pain. While swelling isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, it can affect knee function and leave you feeling uncomfortable. When using an ice pack, keep it in place on the knee joint for 10-15 minutes until the knee feels numb. Repeat every 2-3 hours for up to 4 times per day. Never sleep with ice on your knee overnight.

    Compression

    Adding compression with a knee sleeve or stretch wrap will help with the healing process. It will provide comfort to the knee while also helping address swelling. Be sure the pressure is consistent throughout the knee and not so tight that it affects circulation. 

    Elevation

    Adding elevation to the other three steps we just covered will maximize the pain management effects of RICE. Simply prop your leg up above your heart and let it rest while you ice your knee for 15 minutes at a time. If you are struggling with excessive knee swelling while sitting or standing in one place for a while, you can keep it elevated more often too.

  • Stretches and Exercises

    Recovering from knee bursitis is all about finding a balance between initial rest and then gradually restoring knee flexibility and strength. You can use your symptoms as a gauge for where you should be in your recovery process. Typically, you can start gentle stretching and knee range of motion exercises within the first week or two. Then, work on building from there to dynamic strengthening and coordination.

    If you’re not sure where to begin, check our full resource on stretches and exercises for knee bursitis.

  • Medication

    Often, if you need to take the edge off your knee pain you can take an over the counter anti-inflammatory non-steroidal medication like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin for temporary relief. This may be enough to get you motivated to start your RICE regime and exercise program. If your pain or swelling is more severe your doctor may be able to prescribe something stronger too.

    Please keep in mind that medication should never be a long term solution for pain due to the side effects it can present, particularly when used for more than a few weeks.

  • Bracing

    There are several different options for braces that offer different levels of support depending on your needs. What option is best for you depends on your symptoms and functional deficits. Choosing a brace often comes down to personal preference for providing comfort with daily activity. This can range from a light cloth sleeve to a brace with hard stops for protecting the knee from higher impact. If you need help choosing a knee brace, check out our full knee brace resource.

    People can gain a false sense of security with a knee brace when starting to increase their activity levels after a knee injury. Make sure to proceed with caution and ensure that your knee is ready and coordinated for the moves you are trying to accomplish.

  • Lifestyle Changes

    There are many different lifestyle changes that can help you get on track. These can promote better healing in your body, decrease strain on the knee, and prevent future issues with the knee. These recommendations may include:

  • Weight loss to decrease strain on the knee
  • Good nutrition to encourage better body function and healing
  • Avoiding high impact activities or other aggravating activities like squatting
  • Wearing kneepads with high-risk movements such as carpet laying
  • Better stress management skills
  • Allowing rest when needed
  • Proper management of chronic disease like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis

Medical Treatment

If your symptoms are moderate to severe or not getting better on their own with home treatment, you may want professional guidance. Typically, going more conservative with a physical therapist (PT) is the best place to start. 

  • Physical Therapy

    At your first appointment, a PT will thoroughly assess your lower body strength, pain, function, and flexibility. They can then make recommendations for treatment such as pain modalities (ice, heat, TENS, or ultrasound), massage therapy, injury education, exercise, and more.

    The biggest benefit for completing a round of physical therapy is that it sets you up for long-term success. This is because it addresses full body function and any underlying issues that may have been perpetuating the injury in your knee.  Plus, you’ll feel confident in your knee program and be able to transition to treating and maintaining your knee health on your own.

  • Aspiration

    If there is a suspicion of infection or gout in one of the bursae, your doctor may insert a needle and aspirate some fluid. The most common spot to aspirate is the prepatellar bursa. They can then test the fluid to help them decide what further treatments or meds can help. This is also a treatment option for removing excess fluid, although the literature doesn’t support it since the fluid often comes right back.

  • Corticosteroid Injection

    A steroid injection can help with inflammation in the knee when nothing else seems to be helping. Relief is typically rapid but doesn’t always last as long as anticipated. Corticosteroid injections are often effective but not a long term solution. It may be enough to promote healing and get on track with other treatment options.

  • Surgery

    Although very uncommon and only used in severe chronic cases, surgery is also an option. A surgeon may need to clean up any areas causing irritation to the bursa or completely remove the affected area.

Keeping Safety in Mind for Knee Bursitis Relief

The key to keeping your knee safe while treating it is to pay close attention to your symptoms. Knee bursitis treatment can be straightforward with the right understanding and guidance for the injury. The knee is such a common injury site that if symptoms are not getting better after a few weeks your doctor may want to further investigate other possible issues, such as a ligament tear, fractures, or tendonitis. This may require an x-ray or other imaging to rule other possible issues out.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/knee-bursitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355506

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/knee-bursitis-treatments

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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