How Do I Get Rid of Bursitis in My Knee?

Reviewed on 9/15/2022

What Are the Best Treatments for Bursitis in the Knee?

A man with knee pain holding his knee in hands
Bursitis treatment may include home remedies (RICE method, heat, cushions, etc.), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, physical therapy, antibiotics, and surgery.

Bursitis is inflammation or irritation of the bursae (plural of “bursa”), which are fluid-filled sacs around joints and tendons that work to reduce friction from movement and to provide cushioning between bones, tendons, muscles, and skin.

Bursitis can affect nearly any joint in the body, but some joints are affected more often than others, such as the knee. 

Types of bursitis in the knee include: 

  • Prepatellar and infrapatellar bursitis 
  • MCL bursitis 
  • Pes anserinus pain syndrome 

Other common locations for bursitis to occur include: 

  • Shoulder (subacromial bursitis)  
  • Elbow (olecranon bursitis) 
  • Upper back (scapulothoracic bursitis) 
  • Pelvis (ischial bursitis
  • Hip
    • Greater trochanteric pain syndrome (formerly called trochanteric bursitis) 
    • Iliopsoas bursitis 
  • Heel (retrocalcaneal bursitis) 

The best way to get rid of bursitis in the knee depends on the cause and usually involves rest and protecting the knee joints, relieving inflammation and pain, treating any infection, preserving range of motion, avoiding complications, and preventing recurrence.

Lifestyle modifications to treat protect the knee joints include: 

  • The RICE method:
    • Rest
    • Ice the knee
    • Compression of the knee with a compression bandage or stocking
    • Elevation of the knee
  • Heat (e.g., a heating pad) 
    • More effective for deeper forms of bursitis, such as in the inner knee
  • Avoid or modify activities that cause pain
  • Use pads or cushions for kneeling 
  • Use splints or braces to limit movement of the affected knee joint

Medications used to treat bursitis in the knee include: 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation
  • Steroid injections for pain and inflammation 
    • Used when the affected area is deep under the skin but not for superficial types of bursitis
    • Only used for short-term pain relief for several weeks

Other measures to treat bursitis in the knee include: 

  • Physical therapy
    • Exercises depend on the type and severity of bursitis in the knee but may include: 
      • Range of motion
      • Strengthening
      • Stretching
  • Treating infection
    • Septic bursitis can be serious and needs to be treated right away 
  • Surgery
    • Rarely performed to remove all or part of the affected bursa (bursectomy)

What Are Symptoms of Bursitis in the Knee?

Symptoms of bursitis in the knee can come on rapidly (acute) or develop slowly over time (chronic). 

Symptoms of bursitis in the knee include: 

  • Pain in the knee
  • Pain when moving or bending the knee joint 
  • Visible redness and swelling of the knee
  • Warmth in the affected area
  • Limited range of motion and deterioration of muscles due to pain in chronic bursitis 
  • If an infection is present (“septic bursitis”) symptoms may include: 
    • Pain, swelling, warmth, and redness around the affected knee joint
    • Fever 

What Causes Bursitis in the Knee?

A variety of conditions can cause bursitis.

Causes of acute bursitis in the knee include:

  • Injury, such as from a fall or hit
    • People who take anticoagulants (blood thinners) are at increased risk 
  • Infection from bacteria entering the body through a cut or scrape in the skin
  • Certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis
  • Tendonitis
  • Gout or other crystal diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease

Causes of chronic bursitis in the knee include: 

  • Strain or overuse from repetitive motion
  • Kneeling or leaning on the knee joint for a long period
  • Joint stress from an abnormal gait

How Is Bursitis in the Knee Diagnosed?

Bursitis in the knee is diagnosed with a patient history of symptoms, a physical examination of the knee, and sometimes other tests.

Tests to determine the cause of bursitis in the knee include: 

  • If infection or crystal disease (for example, gout) is suspected, fluid is removed from the affected bursa using a syringe (aspiration) to be examined under a microscope  
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests to rule out other problems, such as tears in cartilage or ligaments
Reviewed on 9/15/2022

Image source: iStock Images