Knee Bursitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles around all joints in the body. When bursae become inflamed, it’s called bursitis.

If you are experiencing knee pain and you are not sure what the cause is, it’s worth gaining some understanding of knee bursitis. If you have any chronic pain, it’s important to know the different conditions that could be causing it and the symptoms associated with each one.


What Causes Bursitis Knee Pain?

Repetitive motion is the most common cause of bursitis in the joints. Knee bursitis is especially common because motion is almost unavoidable if you take frequent walks, do a job that requires kneeling, or are a runner.

Overuse or Repetitive Knee Movement

Certain occupations, hobbies, and activities require repetitive motion that adds pressure to the bursae in the knee. Examples of these include:

  • Cleaning, especially scrubbing floors.
  • Running
  • Childcare that requires leaning down and picking children up frequently
  • Laying carpet or roof tiles
  • Gardening
  • Painting
  • Playing a drum set

Anyone engaging in these activities could potentially develop knee bursitis, but the risk is higher for older individuals.

Previous Knee Injury or Trauma

If you have previously experienced an injury of the knee or its surrounding muscles, or have been through some form of physical trauma that impacted your knee, you may have a higher risk of developing knee bursitis.

Pre-Existing Knee Conditions

Certain pre-existing knee conditions and medical situations increase your risk of knee bursitis. These include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and gout. Being overweight can also increase your risk due to the added pressure on your knee.


Bursitis Knee Symptoms

If you have bursitis in your knee, you may notice these symptoms:


The knee may swell, be tender to the touch, and appear red.


Achiness or stiffness of the knee is a common symptom of bursitis that makes it difficult to walk or stand for extended periods of time.

Trouble Bending Knee

Swelling and stiffness can make it harder to bend the knee during activities.


Diagnosis of Knee Bursitis

If your knee pain is disabling, preventing you from moving, or is paired with excessive swelling, it may be time to seek a medical diagnosis. Knee bursitis can be screened for during physical exams, using certain imaging tests, and in lab tests.

Physical Exams

During a physical exam, physicians will take a look at both knees and compare their conditions. They may then gently press on all areas of the affected knee, looking for warmth and swelling, and attempting to identify the exact location of the pain. Doctors may also carefully move your leg, bending and straightening at the knee in order to determine your range of motion and reaction to movement.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests may not identify bursitis exclusively, but will help your physician rule out other possible conditions and injuries that could be causing your knee pain. X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds can all be used to detect certain conditions in the bones and surrounding tissue of the knee.

Lab Tests

Your physician may extract a sample of fluid from the bursa around your knee if they suspect that your pain is caused by infection or gout. This is done by inserting a needle into the area with pain and draining some fluid. Draining fluid around the knee could also be used as a treatment for knee bursitis.


How to Prevent Bursitis Knee Pain?

The following measures can help to prevent bursitis knee pain in the future:

Warm-Up Before Exercise

Proper warm-ups before exercising or activities that require repetitive knee movement can help prepare your body for the increase in pressure. Easing into new sports or forms of physical activity can gradually increase the pressure your knees can withstand. Always take breaks when you feel like the pain is beginning to mount.

Improve Posture for Workouts

The correct form, posture, and use of equipment can make all the difference in preventing knee bursitis. Positioning the body properly is important during both workouts and daily activities. Knee pads can be used to provide cushion on the knee joint and shoes should always fit well, provide support, and be tied snugly.


Treatment of Bursitis Knee Pain

Bursitis of the knee could potentially improve on its own with time and rest, but treatment can be used for pain management in the meantime.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy will help improve knee flexibility and strengthen the muscles around the knee. Knee bursitis has the potential to recur, and physical therapy could help with preventing that from happening.


If the bursitis is caused by an infection of the fluid in or around the bursae, antibiotic treatment may be necessary. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain meds could also help temporarily alleviate knee pain.

Potential Surgery

Surgery could be recommended if your bursitis recurs and doesn’t respond to other forms of treatment. Less invasive treatments should be attempted before surgery is considered. 

Minimally-invasive procedures include:

  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Aspiration of bursae

Our physicians are specialists in minimally-invasive procedures. We create specialized pain management plans for knee bursitis and other sources of knee pain. Find a doctor near you to have your knee pain assessed.


Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to recover from bursitis?

With the right forms of treatment and preventative care, knee bursitis symptoms should go away within a month.

Can bursitis be prevented?

Bursitis can be prevented by warming up before exercising and maintaining proper form during activities. Physical therapy can prevent bursitis from returning if you have had it already.

Can bursitis in the knee lead to a bigger infection?

When a bursa becomes infected and inflamed, septic bursitis occurs. This is usually caused by a cut or scrape on the skin near the knee and will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Are there any home remedies for bursitis?

Icing, warm compresses, rest, and eating anti-inflammatory foods are all ways you can alleviate some of the symptoms of your knee bursitis.