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What is Knee Bursitis?

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

Knee Bursitis Pain

Athletes, gardeners, and others who regularly squat and crouch are at risk for developing bursitis in their knees. Bursitis often brings pain, swelling, and loss of mobility. Thankfully, treatment options can be simple and effective. With early diagnosis and implementation of at-home treatments, your knee will be feeling better in no time. Keep reading to learn what causes bursitis knee, common symptoms, and how to treat and prevent it—so you can keep doing the things you love.

What is Knee Bursitis?

Bursitis of the knee is inflammation of the bursa—a tiny, fluid-filled sac that reduces friction during joint movement and relieves the impact of pressure points in the knee. Bursitis of the knee most commonly develops in the prepatellar bursa, subcutaneous prepatellar bursa, and superficial infrapatellar bursa.

  • The prepatellar bursa is located at the front of the knee just above the kneecap and is the most common location of knee bursitis.
  • The subcutaneous prepatellar bursa lies between the skin and the kneecap.
  • The infrapatellar bursa is located just below the kneecap, between the skin and top of the shin bone.

What Causes Bursitis of the Knee?

There are a handful of bursitis knee causes. Damage to the bursa leads to swelling and discomfort. Some of the primary causes of bursitis in knee include:

  • Infection
  • Injuries
  • Wear and tear
  • Poor posture that affects body mechanics and the pressure placed on the knee
  • Underlying medical conditions like diabetes, rheumatism, or gout
  • Sustained pressure on the bursa
  • Overuse of a particular joint
  • Repetitive motions
  • Direct impact to the knee or kneecap
  • Complications from illnesses or injuries

The cause is different for everyone: A sharp, sudden blow to the knee, or just walking through the house, could trigger bursitis of the knee. Onset of symptoms is usually pretty gradual yet it can also happen very suddenly. If you suspect you have bursitis knee, talk to your doctor for a professional diagnosis (if needed) and to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Who is at Risk for Bursitis Knee?

Knee bursitis is fairly common, but some groups of people are more likely to develop the condition than others. Those at high risk include:

  • Athletes

    Runners and athletes place pressure on the knees and often risk direct impact and injury. Athletes are among the most frequent sufferers of bursitis in knees.

  • Manual Laborers

    Those who work on their knees for extended periods or who place pressure on them regularly are at a greater risk of developing bursitis. This includes plumbers, gardeners, flooring installers, and carpenters.

  • Obese

    More weight means increased pressure on the knee and bursa, which often triggers bursitis. Obese people often experience knee pain, along with additional health risks that can predispose them to joint injuries.

  • Those with Underlying Conditions

    Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other illnesses that affect the joints lead to an increased risk of inflammation and bursitis.

What are Knee Bursitis Symptoms?

Early identification can help reduce the severity of bursitis and make it easier to control. Identifying symptoms of knee bursitis is very important for a speedy recovery—and for managing the injury without invasive treatments. Yet, many of these symptoms are common for other knee injuries as well. Here are common symptoms of bursitis in the knee.

  • Noticeable swelling in the knee- especially when localized to one specific area in the knee
  • Localized pain and tenderness
  • Stiffness and reduced mobility of the knee or kneecap
  • Warmth in the knee, particularly in the area around the bursa
  • Difficulty supporting body weight
  • Pain even during rest, which often increases during movement

How is Chronic Knee Bursitis Diagnosed?

It can be difficult to tell whether your knee soreness or swelling is bursitis. Luckily, if symptoms are mild to moderate you can start a general treatment program for knee health that will promote recovery. However, if symptoms are more severe you may want to seek help first. This might require an exam from your doctor or physical therapist first to make sure you are properly addressing your knee deficits.

Your doctor may use the following methods to render a diagnosis.

Physical Methods

  • Manual examinations are used to check for warmth, swelling, and range of motion, as well as the relative condition of each knee.
  • Fluid samples are taken by draining the bursa with a needle. This reduces pressure and lessens pain, and the fluid will be tested to check for infections.
  • Ultrasounds are often used to identify swelling in the bursa.
  • MRIs help see soft tissues like the bursa and provide knee bursitis images.
  • X-Rays deliver bursitis knee images and give medical professionals a closer look at bones and joint structure.

Knee Bursitis Treatment Options

What treatments are best for your knee depends on your symptoms and severity. Typically, the healing process is initiated with home remedies to promote rest, blood flow, and pain relief. If your bursitis developed due to faulty movement patterns (common), you may need to complete a round of physical therapy. On the other hand, if swelling is severe, there are more invasive options available like surgical removal, needle aspiration, or a cortisone injection. Lastly, if there is an infection present a round of antibiotics may be to be prescribed.

Bursitis of the Knee: Recovery Time

How long does knee bursitis last? Recovery time varies significantly depending on the patient and treatment plan. Less severe cases may heal within a few weeks while more severe injuries may require a few months. Of course, surgery typically requires more recovery time, but mild symptoms can be managed and reduced over time rather quickly.

Bursitis of the knee can make it difficult to tolerate normal daily activities that require weight-bearing, like walking or standing. Luckily it is treatable, and a quick diagnosis and treatment is key to reducing its severity and keeping your life on track.






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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