Knee bursitis

Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion your joints from shock and impact. Inflammation of a bursa, a condition referred to as bursitis, can cause pain and swelling in a joint. While bursitis will often resolve itself naturally after a couple of weeks, more severe or long-lasting cases may require treatment. Inflammation of one or more of the bursae in your knee joint is referred to as knee bursitis.

If you are suffering with painful or swollen knee that is affecting your mobility, it may be wise to have an assessment with an orthopaedic consultant. They will be able to accurately diagnose the cause of the problem and discuss any appropriate pain relief and/or treatment options for you. If you contact our team at Circle, they will be able to easily arrange a consultation for you with a leading orthopaedic consultant, at a time that is convenient for you.

Bursae can become inflamed due to infection or injury. Should this happen, the inflamed bursa will put increased pressure on nearby structures/tissues, causing pain and/or swelling.

Risk factors for developing bursitis in the knee include:

  • Age: the risk of developing knee bursitis increases with age
  • Kneeling: if your knees often experience pressure, from kneeling on a hard surface for example, you are more likely to develop bursitis in your knee. Certain jobs such as builder, plasterer, painter, nursery assistant and pre-school teacher can involve a lot of kneeling as part of the regular working day.
  • Impact to the knee: although physical activity is good for improving your general health, it may increase your risk of developing knee bursitis. This is especially an issue when a direct impact to your knee, as may be seen in rugby or football for example, is a possibility in your chosen sport.

Your knee contains a number of bursae and the location of the affected bursa, as well as the degree of inflammation, will determine the exact symptoms you experience. Common symptoms of knee bursitis include:

  • Pain, although this will often be more of an ache than a sharp, severe pain
  • Swelling in the affected knee
  • Your knee may be unusually tender when touched or moved
  • Reduced movement/range of movement in the affected knee. You may find it difficult to bend or extend your leg without making the pain worse. 

As many of the symptoms overlap with those of other conditions and injuries, it can often be a challenge to self-diagnose knee bursitis; this is where a consultation with a consultant who is highly experienced in problems of the knee joint can be of particular value.

Bursitis in the knee may resolve itself naturally within a couple of weeks. However, if the bursitis is causing long-term or severe pain and/or loss of movement in your knee, treatment is available, including:

  • Rest: Often, the best thing you can do to aid recovery from knee bursitis is to rest the affected knee. This helps to reduce the risk of additional strain, aggravation or injury to the joint.
  • Ice: Placing a cold ice pack on the affected knee can sometimes help to reduce any swelling and pain.
  • Medication: Painkillers, particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the knee.
  • Physiotherapy: Your consultant may recommend that you see a physiotherapist for help in your recovery. Your Circle physiotherapist will also be able to show you mobility and strengthening exercises to help improve your flexibility and range of motion in the affected knee without aggravating the bursitis.
  • Aspiration and steroid injection: Aspiration is used to take the joint fluid out of a swollen joint, while steroid injections aim to reduce pain and inflammation. These methods can be used provided it is clear that the bursitis is infective in its origin.
  • Surgery: While fairly uncommon, there are times when surgery may be required to drain an infected (septic) bursa in your knee. Even more rarely, the bursa will need to be removed completely. Should any form of knee bursitis surgery be necessary, this will be explained in detail by your Circle consultant and you will have the chance to ask them any questions you may have about the procedure and your recovery from the surgery.

If you have pain in or around your knee and are wondering if it is being caused by bursitis, why not come and talk to one of our orthopaedic consultants? They will be able to talk with you and assess the cause of your pain. Should any additional tests or scans be required to aid diagnosis, they will arrange those for you promptly.

At Circle, it is easy to book an appointment with a consultant at a time that is convenient for you. We have no waiting lists, meaning that you can be seen promptly and receive the expert treatment for your knee pain without undue delay.

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Fast track your treatment

Just enter your details below and we'll ring you to provide a quote or answer your questions. We will use your personal information to process your enquiry and contact you with relevant information. For further information, please see our website privacy policy.

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Circle Health, 32 Welbeck St, Marylebone, London W1G 8EU

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