Bursitis Knee

john miller physiotherapist

Article by John Miller

What is Knee Bursitis? 

bursitis knee

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis can cause pain above, on or below your patella (kneecap). The knee consists of up to 11 bursae. The bursae most commonly subjected to inflammation are the prepatellar bursa, infrapatellar bursa, pes anserinus bursa and suprapatellar bursa.

The prepatellar bursa lies just above the kneecap between the skin and the kneecap. Prepatellar bursitis has historically been referred to as “housemaid’s knee”, which is derived from being a condition that was commonly associated with individuals whose work necessitated kneeling for extended periods of time. Prepatellar bursitis is common in professions such as carpet layers, gardeners, roofers and plumbers. 

bursitis knee

The infrapatellar bursa essentially consists of two bursae, one of which sits superficially between the patella tendon (below the kneecap) and the skin and the second referred to as the deep infrapatellar bursa is sandwiched between the patella tendon and tibia bone (shin). It can occur conjunctively with a condition called “Jumper’s Knee”, which involves repetitive strain and irritation to the patella tendon, often from jumping activities.

The third most common knee bursitis, pes anserinus, occurs in the lower, inside part of the knee in close proximity to the upper aspect of the shin bone (tibia). It usually affects middle-aged women and overweight individuals.

Suprapatellar bursitis occurs above the kneecap. The suprapatellar bursa extends superiorly from beneath the patella under the quadriceps muscle. It is vulnerable to injury from both acute trauma and repeated microtrauma. Acute injuries are from direct trauma to the bursa via falls directly onto the knee, as well as from overuse injuries, including running on soft or uneven surfaces, or from jobs that require crawling on the knees, such as carpet laying.

What is a Bursa?

A bursa is a thin sack filled with synovial fluid, the body's own natural lubricating fluid. This slippery sack allows different tissues such as muscle, tendon, and skin slide over bony surfaces without catching. Your bursa essentially reduces the friction between structures.

A bursa is normally very thin, but they can become inflamed and irritated. This is what is known as bursitis.

What Causes Knee Bursitis?

There is a myriad of factors that can contribute to knee bursitis. The most common ones include:

  • Direct trauma or blow to the knee.
  • Frequent falls on the knee.
  • Repeated pressure on the knee (eg from activities that entail prolonged periods of kneeling) or repetitive minor trauma to the knee.
  • Knee Arthritis, thus bursitis can be associated with such conditions as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

What are the Symptoms of Knee Bursitis?

The symptoms of knee bursitis include:

  • Swelling over, above or below the kneecap.
  • Limited motion of the knee.
  • Redness and warmth at the site of the bursa.
  • Painful movement of the knee.

Knee bursitis swelling is within the bursa, not the knee joint. People often call any swelling of the knee joint "water on the knee," but there is an important difference between fluid accumulation within the bursa and within the knee joint.

Symptoms of knee bursitis are usually aggravated by kneeling, crouching, repetitive bending or squatting and symptoms can be relieved when sitting still.

How is Knee Bursitis Diagnosed?

Your physiotherapist will provide you with a thorough quiz of your medical history and a physical examination of your knee to determine if you have knee bursitis. If there is localised swelling and you feel tenderness over the bursa when pressure is applied, a diagnosis is confirmed.

With respect to scans, an MRI or Ultrasound are the most effective for a definitive diagnosis of knee bursitis. 

What is the Treatment of Knee Bursitis?

The diagnosis is the easy part. Your physiotherapist will also undertake a biomechanical analysis to determine what the cause of your bursitis actually is. Factors may include muscle weakness, tightness, pain inhibition, leg length discrepancy, training techniques and more. 

Physiotherapy

Many patients with knee bursitis start to feel better within a few weeks of the injury. Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to:

  • Reduce pain and inflammation, this is achieved with the application of electrical modalities, ice, therapeutic taping and education regarding activity modification
  • Normalise your knee joint range of motion.
  • Strengthen your knee muscles: quadriceps and hamstrings.
  • Strengthen your lower limb: calves, hip and pelvis muscles.
  • Normalise your muscle lengths.
  • Improve your proprioception, agility and balance.
  • Improve your technique and function eg walking, running, squatting, hopping and landing.
  • Minimise your chance of re-aggravation.

Anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs are also used in combination with physiotherapy to help alleviate the pain and swelling. If the bursa becomes infected or if your symptoms persist for a prolonged period your doctor may recommend that the bursa is aspirated. Alternatively, your doctor may also recommend an injection of a glucocorticoid steroid that is mixed with a local anaesthetic. If infection occurs, you may require antibiotics.

Knee Bursa Surgery?

In particularly stubborn cases, surgical removal of the bursa may be recommended.

Risks of surgery include infection, persistent instability and pain, stiffness, and difficulty returning to your previous level of activity. The good news is that more than 90% of patients have no complications post-surgery.

Post-Surgical Rehabilitation

Post-operative knee rehabilitation is one of the most important, yet too often neglected, aspects of knee surgery. The most successful and quickest outcomes result from the guidance and supervision of an experienced physiotherapist.

How Can You Prevent Knee Bursitis?

Knee bursitis is best prevented by maintaining flexible thigh muscles and reducing the amount of time you are in a kneeling position. Ice after excessive kneeling is recommended to avoid an inflammatory response, which is the first stage of bursitis.

Pacing yourself during activities which entail repeated bending or squatting is also paramount. Ensuring that you take regular rest breaks between periods of bending or kneeling and alternating them with other less aggravating activities is key. Essentially, an appropriate balance between rest and activity is recommended. Weight-management can play a role in the pressure exerted on lower limb joints, and thus should be something considered as a long-term preventative measure.

For more advice, please consult your physiotherapist. 

Call PhysioWorks

Book Online

Common Treatments for Knee Bursitis

  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • Soft Tissue Injury? What are the Healing Phases?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Balance Enhancement Exercises
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Agility & Sport-Specific Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Real Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Bursitis Treatment
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Prehabilitation
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Supportive Taping & Strapping
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • FAQs about Knee Bursitis

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What is Pain?
  • Physiotherapy & Exercise
  • When Should Diagnostic Tests Be Performed?
  • Can Kinesiology Taping Reduce Your Swelling and Bruising?
  • How Can You Prevent a Future Leg Injury?
  • How Much Treatment Will You Need?
  • Runners: How to Reduce Your Knee Stress
  • Sports Injury? What to do? When?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is Sports Physiotherapy?
  • What's the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • When Can You Return to Sport?
  • Why Kinesiology Tape Helps Reduce Swelling and Bruising Quicker
  • Call PhysioWorks

    Book Online

    Helpful Products for Knee Bursitis

    patella Bursitis

    Knee Pain

    Common Causes

    knee pain

    Knee Ligament Injuries

    Knee Meniscus

    Knee Tendonitis

    Muscle Injuries

    Children's Knee Conditions

    Other Knee-Related Conditions

    Knee Surgery

    Call PhysioWorks

    Book Online


    Share this page

    Last updated 25-Apr-2018 03:20 PM

    Receive Special Offers and the Latest Injury Information

    Enter Details Below to Signup:



    Receive Special Offers and the Latest Injury Information

    Enter Details Below to Signup:



    PhysioWorks does not endorse companies or products who choose to advertise on this website. Advertising revenue supports the free access to our educational content and its updates. Check out the links below for more specific health information from your trusted PhysioWorks team.

    Share this page