Doctors often can make a diagnosis of knee bursitis with a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will:
- Compare the condition of both knees, particularly if only one is painful
- Gently press on areas of your knee to detect warmth, swelling and the source of pain
- Inspect the skin over the tender area for redness or other signs of infection
- Carefully move your legs and knees to determine your knee's range of motion and whether it hurts to bend or flex it
To help rule out injuries that can cause signs and symptoms similar to those of bursitis, your doctor might request one or more of the following imaging tests:
- X-ray. These can be useful in revealing a problem with a bone or arthritis.
- MRI. MRIs use radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of structures within your body. This technology visualizes soft tissues, such as bursae.
- Ultrasound. Using sound waves to produce images in real time, ultrasound can help your doctor better visualize swelling in the affected bursa.
If your doctor suspects that you have an infection or gout in the bursa, he or she might take a sample of the bursa fluid for testing by inserting a needle into the affected area and draining some of the fluid. This can also be used as treatment.
Bursitis often improves over time, so treatment is usually aimed at symptom relief. However, depending on the cause of your knee bursitis and which bursa is infected, your doctor might recommend one or more treatment approaches.
If an infection has caused the knee bursitis, your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotic treatment.
Your doctor might refer you to a physical therapist or specialist in sports medicine, who can help you improve flexibility and strengthen muscles. This therapy might alleviate pain and reduce your risk of recurring episodes of knee bursitis. Protective knee braces might help if you can't avoid kneeling, and compressive knee sleeves can help reduce swelling.
Surgical and other procedures
More-invasive treatments for knee bursitis treatment include:
- Corticosteroid injection. If the bursitis is persistent and not responding to basic treatments, your doctor might inject a corticosteroid drug into an affected bursa to reduce inflammation. The inflammation usually subsides rapidly, but you might have pain and swelling from the injection for a couple of days.
- Aspiration. Your doctor might aspirate a bursa to reduce excess fluid and treat inflammation. He or she will insert a needle into the affected bursa and draw fluid into the syringe. Aspiration might cause short-term pain and swelling, and you might need to wear a knee immobilizer for a short period after the injection to reduce the chance of recurrent swelling.
- Surgery. If you have severe chronic or recurrent bursitis and don't respond to other treatments, your doctor might recommend surgery to remove the bursa.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To ease pain and discomfort of knee bursitis:
- Rest your knee. Discontinue the activity that caused knee bursitis and avoid movements that worsen your pain.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Short-term use of an anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), can help relieve pain.
- Apply ice. Apply an ice pack to your knee for 20 minutes at a time several times a day until the pain goes away and your knee no longer feels warm to the touch.
- Apply compression. Use of a compressive wrap or knee sleeve can help reduce swelling.
- Elevate your knee. Prop your affected leg on pillows to help reduce swelling in your knee.
Preparing for your appointment
You might start by seeing your primary care provider, who might refer you to a doctor who specializes in other joint disorders (rheumatologist) or an orthopedic surgeon.
Here's information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Make a list of:
- Your symptoms and when they began
- Key personal information, including major stresses and your and your family's medical history
- All medications, vitamins and other supplements you take, including doses
- Questions to ask your doctor
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For knee bursitis, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Are there other possible causes?
- What tests will I need?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- Will I need to limit my activities?
- Are there self-care measures I can try?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
- Did your pain begin suddenly or gradually?
- What work or recreational activities do you do that might affect your knees?
- Does your pain occur or worsen when doing certain activities, such as kneeling or climbing stairs?
- Have you recently fallen, been in an accident or suffered a blow to your knee?
- What treatments have you tried at home?
- What effect did those treatments have?