TREATMENT - Knee Bursitis

Most orthopedic surgeons would recommend treating knee bursitis conservatively meaning without surgery. Usually your physician may recommend some simple treatments including physical therapy and even injections. It is rare that surgery is required for bursitis of your knee. However, if you develop symptoms of infection to your knee, your physician may recommend surgery immediately. If you are informed that you will be treated without surgery, your recovery can be easily remembered by these three words: Control, Avoid, and Rehabilitate.

Control: Get your pain under control 

  • Heat can be of benefit with bursitis. Applying a heating pad on a low setting for 10-20 minutes at a time can help relieve some of your pain. Applying a simple over the counter analgesic cream such as AspercreamTM can also provide local pain relief.

  • Over-the-counter pain medications can be of use. These include anti-inflammatories such as MotrinTM (ibuprofen) and AleveTM (naproxen), and pain medications, such as TylenolTM (acetaminophen).

  • Cryotherapy (ice, cold therapy) is an excellent way to control your pain. Do not apply ice directly to your skin for more than 5 minutes as it can cause burns. A device specially designed to cool your joint (see our PolarCare Cub) can be used for longer periods, as long as you carefully follow the directions and discontinue its use if you have pain or a burning sensation.

  • Bracing. In addition to providing stability, braces provides pain relief by stimulating some of your nerve fibers which make you feel that your joint is more stable and secure. These are the same nerve fibers you compress when you grab your finger after you hit it with a hammer. Even though your finger was just smashed, you squeeze it with your other hand as hard as you can and it makes it feel better. Some patients with bursitis feel better with support and compression around the knee, some feel worse - you should try it both ways and do whatever feels best for you. If support helps, sometimes a simple elastic bandage is all you need; however, some people will feel better with a knee brace. We recommend our DonJoy Comfort Knee Brace to provide comfort and protection to your swollen knee.

  • If you have a mild arthritis in addition to your bursitis, taking glucosamine sulfate can help to protect your cartilage from further injury and relieve pain! 

    Avoid activities that cause your pain

    Just like the old bad joke about the patient that told the doctor: "Doc, everytime I do this, my knee hurts" and the doctor replies: "Well, don't do that!" Although this may seem humorous, there is some truth to the joke. Your body has developed a very complex mechanism to inform you that something is wrong. Humans that ignored these warning signs are no longer living with us today. When our great, great ancestors did not listen to this mechanism, they were killed off by disease or by predators. Thus, pain acts as a warning signal to stop, rest and do something else. Avoid such activities as squatting, kneeling, heavy lifting, climbing, and even running. Listen to your body and make a list of activities or movements that increase your pain and DON'T DO THESE THINGS. Also, make a list of activities and movements that reduce your pain and DO THESE THINGS.

    Rehabilitate your knee

    The key to this step is to remember controlled motions. This means you have complete control of these motions through a structured rehabilitation program. Most rehabilitation programs can be done in the convenience and privacy of your own home. In specific cases, your doctor may prescribe formalized physical therapy, with a therapist or trainer. With the diagnosis of bursitis, your physician may recommend focusing on the quadriceps (thigh) muscle, and the semimembranosis, semitendonsosis and gracilis muscles (inside hamstring muscles).

    The keys to rehabilitation include

    • Motivation to actually do the exercises. See our page on motivational strategies to improve your success.
    • Correct exercises for your problem. See your doctor or physical therapist if you need advice in this regard.
    • Proper equipment. This equipment can either be at your therapists office, at your health club, or items that you purchase for use at home. We have found that people who do their exercises at home are much more likely to benefit from the program as they more frequently perform the exercises. 


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