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Does Bursitis Cause Knee Pain?

Does Bursitis Cause Knee Pain?

There are many adjectives we can use to describe your knees — large, complex, hard-working. Unfortunately, they’re also more prone to problems than many other joints, thanks to this complexity and workload. While there are many conditions that can lead to knee pain, we’re going to concentrate on one here — bursitis.

At Willliam Schell, MD, our team of musculoskeletal specialists, led by our namesake, board-certified orthopaedic surgeon Dr. William Schell, understands the many ways in which you can develop knee pain, and we’re here to help. As part of this endeavor, we believe that education plays an important role, which is why we want to take a closer look at bursitis.

The anatomy your knee

To better understand how bursitis can lead to knee pain, it’s helpful to understand the role your bursae play in these major joints.

Each of your knees is made up of three bones: your femur (thighbone), your tibia (shinbone), and your patella (knee cap).

Surrounding these three bones are a host of soft tissues that provide stability, movement, protection, and support, including your:

Your knees contain about 30 bursae, which are filled with fluid to help to reduce friction between your bones and soft tissues. 

Bursitis basics

If your bursae become irritated, extra fluid can expand the sac, which leads to inflammation and discomfort in your knee. In most cases of knee bursitis, the problem stems from your prepatellar bursae, the tiny fluid sacs located at the front of your kneecaps.

The most common signs of bursitis in your knees include discomfort and swelling, but we should note that not everyone who develops bursitis in this area experiences pain. If it’s prepatellar bursitis, you may develop a lump at the front of your knee, which can vary in size (from a golf ball to a grapefruit) depending on the extent of the problem.

The causes of this type of bursitis typically include overuse, arthritis, or injury, and about 80% of cases occur in men.

In one-third of cases, the swelling may not be caused by extra fluid, but by pus, which is a clear sign that you may have septic prepatellar bursitis. To determine whether you have this type of infection, you should be on the lookout for:

If you have these symptoms, you should come see us sooner rather than later, because we don’t want the infection to spread or enter your bloodstream. Typically, a course of antibiotics should remedy the problem.

Treating bursitis

Outside of septic prepatellar bursitis, we typically start treating knee bursitis with the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). If the problem persists, we can try corticosteroid injections to reduce the inflammation, or we can aspirate the fluid from your knee.

Should these measures still not remedy your problem, we can arthroscopically remove the problematic bursa to prevent further issues.

Since you rely on well-functioning knees, we urge you to come see us at the first signs of a problem so we can properly diagnose and treat the issue. To schedule an appointment, contact our New York City office, which is located in Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.

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