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Bursitis of the Knee

Bursitis is named after bursae, which are tiny sacs filled with a jelly-like fluid. Bursae live between bones and soft tissue, and their purpose is to help reduce the friction caused by movement. Knee bursitis is a painful inflammation of the bursae that is located around your knee. Knee bursitis is one of the most common forms.

Bursitis is usually associated with over-stressing or repetitive use of the areas around your joints. For example, patients who kneel, particularly on harder surfaces (carpenters, road workers, etc.) for prolonged periods of time are at risk of developing knee bursitis. It can also be caused by direct trauma (bumping your knee on a table) or infection. 

There are multiple bursa in the knee area, and all of them have the potential for becoming inflamed. However, there are two areas of the knee that are most susceptible to bursitis – the kneecap and the lower, inner side of the knee.

Bursitis of the knee can be quite painful, and the pain can decrease mobility. The treatments for knee bursitis often focus on relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and improving mobility.

Symptoms of knee bursitis

Most people with knee bursitis experience pain. Other symptoms vary depending on which of the bursa is affected and what the underlying cause of the bursitis is. Most cases of bursitis of the knee are a result of friction and irritation. When bursitis is caused by friction and irritation of the bursa, the symptoms tend to increase gradually. People who spend a lot of time kneeling on hard surfaces are at higher risk for developing this type of knee bursitis. Knee bursitis may also occur after a traumatic injury, like a blow to the knee. If this happens, the symptoms may appear quickly.

The pain from bursitis may be worse with movement, but it may also occur at rest. 

In addition to pain, people with knee bursitis may experience:

  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Warmth around the affected area

If a bursa is infected, you may also have a fever. If you have a fever in addition to knee pain or swelling, call your doctor right away. 

Diagnosing knee bursitis

If you have knee bursitis, your doctor may be able to provide you with a diagnosis without any tests. A physical exam and a medical history may be enough to get an accurate diagnosis. However, your doctor may want to order tests to rule out other conditions or injuries. Those tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI scan

If there’s evidence you may have an infected bursa, your doctor may take a sample of fluid from one or more knee bursa using a thin needle. This is called aspiration. 

Beaumont offers treatments for knee bursitis

If you’re diagnosed with knee bursitis, your doctor will likely suggest non-surgical treatment first. This is because knee bursitis tends to improve with time, sometimes even without treatment, so doctors often start with treatment aimed at reducing symptoms as the condition improves. Treatment options may vary from home remedies and lifestyle changes to medication, physical therapy, or steroid injections. These types of medical treatments are often effective for treating knee bursitis, and they may help manage pain and in turn improve mobility. 

Your treatment may include:

  • Medication
    • Pain relievers to treat pain
    • Antibiotics to treat infection if that is the cause of your bursitis
  • Physical therapy to:
    • Help improve strength and flexibility
    • Help alleviate pain
    • Help reduce your risk of recurring bursitis
  • Lifestyle changes and home remedies, such as:
    • Rest
    • Ice
    • Compression (including compression sleeves)
    • Elevation
  • Knee braces if you cannot avoid kneeling
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Aspiration to reduce excess fluid 

Learn more about non-surgical treatment for knee bursitis

  • Knee pain management
  • Physical therapy

Surgery to treat knee bursitis

Most people with knee bursitis do not require surgery, but if more conservative treatments aren’t working, and you’re experiencing significant pain or mobility impairment, surgery may be an option. 

Surgery to treat knee bursitis involves removing the bursa. At Beaumont, we offer arthroscopic removal of the bursa, which is a minimally invasive procedure that removes the knee bursa through a tiny incision. Minimally invasive surgery has many benefits over traditional surgery, including reduced pain, shorter recovery period, and less scarring, to name a few.

Make an appointment at Beaumont

If you have knee pain or other symptoms of knee bursitis, contact a Beaumont specialist at 800-633-7377 to get more information or make an appointment.