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What causes knee bursitis?

Dolor en la rodilla producido por bursitis.

Bursitis occurs when the small fluid-filled sacs (bursa) of the joints become inflamed. These bursae act as cushions between our bones and the tendons, muscles and skin near our joints.

Bursitis can affect any joint, but is most common in the shoulders, hips, elbows and knees, causing localised warmth, swelling and pain.

Knee bursitis

Larger joints such as the knee have multiple bursae, and symptoms will vary depending on which ones becomes inflamed. Nevertheless, knee bursitis most commonly occurs over the kneecap or on the inner side of the knee below the joint.

The most common causes of knee bursitis include:

  • A blow/contusion to the knee.
  • Overuse or strenuous activity.
  • Frequent and sustained pressure, especially kneeling on hard surfaces.

Treatment

To help bring down swelling and relieve pain, try:

  • Rest. Immobilise the joint or avoid activities that exert pressure on it.
  • Ice. Apply an ice pack for 10-20 minutes at a time, about 4 times a day.
  • Painkillers. Paracetamol or ibuprofen should help reduce the inflammation and pain.
  • Elevate. Raising the sore knee may help ease the swelling.

See a doctor if symptoms do not improve or get worse after 1 or 2 weeks, or if you develop a high temperature or sharp shooting pains. A doctor might try:

  • Corticosteroid injection. This usually causes the inflammation to subside quickly.
  • Aspiration. A needle is inserted into the affected bursa to drain excess fluid. 
  • Antibiotics. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, a doctor may prescribe 7 days of antibiotics.
  • Physical therapy. Stretches and exercises will make knee muscles stronger and the joint more flexible. A physical therapist can also fit you with a knee brace or sleeve to lend more support.
  • Surgery. If a recurrent bursitis does not respond to treatment, a doctor may recommend the removal of the bursa via surgery. 
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