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Understanding Knee Bursitis


Knee bursitis, also known as prepatellar bursitis or housemaid’s knee, is a condition that involves inflammation of the bursae in the knee joint. Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs acting as cushions between bones, tendons and muscles. These sacs aim to reduce friction, allowing smooth movement. When these bursae become inflamed, it can lead to pain, swelling, and limited mobility in the knee.

Symptoms of Knee Bursitis:

The most common symptom of knee bursitis is pain, which is often described as a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing sensation. The pain is usually localized to the front of the knee, just above the kneecap. Swelling and tenderness may also be present, and the affected area may feel warm to the touch. In some cases, the knee may become red and there may be difficulty in fully bending or straightening the leg.

Causes of Knee Bursitis:

Knee bursitis can be caused by various factors, including repetitive stress or overuse of the knee joint. Activities that involve frequent kneeling, such as gardening or carpet laying, can put excessive pressure on the bursae, leading to inflammation. Trauma or direct blows to the knee can also cause bursitis. Additionally, certain medical conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or infection, can increase the risk of developing knee bursitis.

Treatment Options:

The treatment for knee bursitis aims to reduce pain, inflammation, and promote healing. Here are some common treatment options:

  1. Rest and Activity Modification: Avoid activities that worsen the symptoms and give the knee time to heal. Using knee pads or cushions when kneeling can also help protect the bursae.
  2. Ice and Heat Therapy: Applying ice packs to the affected area can help reduce swelling and pain. Heat therapy, such as warm compresses or hot baths, can promote blood circulation and relieve stiffness.
  3. Medications: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and inflammation. Although NSAIDs do reduce inflammation to temporarily relieve pain, they are responsible for 30% of hospital admissions for adverse drug side effects, mainly due to bleeding, heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage. In addition, from the first day of use, all NSAIDs increase the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, myocardial infarction, and stroke.
  4. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can guide you through exercises and stretches to strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve flexibility, and reduce stress on the bursae.
  5. Aspiration and Injection: In severe cases, where the bursa is filled with excess fluid, a doctor may perform an aspiration to remove the fluid and relieve pressure. Corticosteroid injections may also be administered to reduce inflammation. Side effects of cortisone, which is commonly injected for joint pain, includes thinning of the skin, easy bruising, weight gain, puffiness of the face, elevation of blood pressure, cataract formation, thinning of the bones, and a rare but serious form of damage to large joints (avascular necrosis). Due to risks, patients may only get this treatment once every several months.
  6. Surgery: In rare cases, when conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgical intervention may be considered. This may involve removing the inflamed bursa or addressing any underlying structural issues in the knee joint.


Knee bursitis can be a painful and limiting condition, but with proper treatment and management, most individuals can find relief and regain normal function. It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a precise diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for knee bursitis, individuals can take proactive steps towards managing their condition and improving their quality of life.

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