Does Knee Bursitis Go Away? | Recovery Time, Treatment, Tips, And More

bursa is a fluid-filled sac between your joints, tendons, and muscles

That swollen lump on your knee can prevent you from doing your job and even make walking a painful task. It can be very frustrating, so it’s only natural to wonder: does knee bursitis go away?

Luckily, yes, it goes away for most people. The key is to avoid activities that increase your knee pain while your bursa heals.

But, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t move at all. In fact, pain-free movement can help you heal faster.

I’ll elaborate more on that in a bit but, for now, let’s move on to a more pressing topic:

How long does it take for knee bursitis to go away?

If you have an infected bursa: At least 10 days

Also known as “septic bursitis”, you’ll probably have to take antibiotics for at least 10 days. These meds will help manage the infection. (1)

You might have less knee pain and swelling after a few days. But, you must complete the antibiotic treatment to avoid reinfection.

Also, your doctor will check your response to the medication. So, you may need blood and imaging tests every few weeks.

If it’s not infected: Most cases heal in 2-8 weeks

Recovery time for non-infectious knee bursitis is vague. But, they usually get better in a few weeks. (2)

A safe time frame to expect would be anywhere between 2-8 weeks.

Treatment is generally conservative, including (2, 3):

  • Rest, to let the bursa heal.
  • Natural anti-inflammatory measures, like putting an ice pack on the affected area.
  • Avoiding activities that make your knee pain worse.

I know it’s tempting, but don’t push through the pain during knee bursitis. This will make the inflammation worse and will take longer to heal.

Also, your doctor may have to aspirate the bursa or administer corticosteroids. These are done depending on the severity of your symptoms. Or, if you don’t respond to over-the-counter medications.

Both of these can reduce swelling fast but they’re also done with a syringe.

That said, these injections have a small risk.

These treatments may also cause an infection to your already inflamed bursitis. This risk increases for superficial bursae, as in prepatellar bursitis. (2)

Don’t be alarmed, though. The risk is minimal since your doctor will also make sure to sterilize your knee and use a sterile syringe.

What if the knee bursitis doesn’t go away?

If your knee bursitis persists, your doctor may suggest other treatments, such as:

Physical therapy

A physical therapist will perform a physical exam. We’ll also ask you about your daily activities and how the pain affects them.

The goal is to restore your knee’s range of motion and manage your swollen knee. But, we do the exam first because we need the info to design a treatment plan that’s specific to you.

treatment table and a PT with their hands around the affected knee

We also give you strategies to prevent knee bursitis in the future. This is particularly important if your occupation or hobbies includes prolonged kneeling.

That said, knee bursitis is a common injury in sports medicine. Physical therapists trained to help you get back to your athletic activity safely and prevent future episodes.

To be honest, working with a physical therapist is the fastest and safest way to reduce your knee bursitis recovery time.

At Knee Force, we want to help as much as we can. So, if you need help finding a qualified physical therapist in your area, we can help!

Surgery

Surgeries for knee bursitis are not common. This option is reserved for people that don’t respond to conservative treatment. (4)

A physical therapist will work with you for some weeks after the surgery to help you heal your knee joint.

Further reading: Different treatments for knee bursitis.

3 Tips to manage knee bursitis at home

1) Stay away from activities that make your symptoms worse

If your prepatellar bursa sac is affected, avoid kneeling. If you can’t avoid this due to your job, try wearing knee pads to prevent bursitis from getting worse.

Avoid activities that worsen your symptoms to reduce friction on the bursa. This will help you heal faster.

2) Let the pain and swelling guide you

Use symptoms to gauge your recovery. The process has a bit of trial and error – that’s normal and expected.

For example:

If walking is painful or worsens the swelling, rest until the symptoms subside. It probably was too much effort for your bursa and you may need a bit more rest.

Once you feel better, try walking fewer steps than before to check how you feel!

3) Try the RICE method to treat inflammation

This is one of the most common home remedies for knee swelling. RICE goes for:

  • Rest. Avoid activities that make your pain worse.
  • Ice. Use ice packs to help you reduce inflammation.
  • Compression. A compressive wrap can also help you manage the swelling.
  • Elevation. Elevate the leg to let gravity reduce the excess fluid for you.

If you have an inflamed knee due to bursitis, the RICE method can help you treat inflammation.

Common types of knee bursitis

Housemaid’s knee

The medical name of this condition is “prepatellar bursitis.”

This type of bursitis affects the prepatellar bursa – the one that covers the front of your kneecap. It’s located between the bone and the skin, so we call it a “superficial bursa.”

This location makes the bursa prone to swelling after kneeling for a long period. That’s why it’s also called housemaid’s knee.

Other names for it include housemaid’s knee, carpenter’s knee, and carpet layer’s knee. These jobs often require a lot of kneeling, making them prone to this type of bursitis.

Prepatellar bursitis is also the most frequent type of bursitis in the knee. (3)

Clergyman’s knee

Infrapatellar bursitis is the second most common type of bursitis in the knee. (3)

It affects the infrapatellar bursa, which you can find below the kneecap, near the tip of the shinbone.

It also becomes inflamed after prolonged kneeling. But, it’s related to a different occupation: priests, vicars, and other religious leaders.

This is because the point of contact when they kneel during prayer is closer to the shinbone, not directly on top of the knees. (3)

Pes anserine bursitis

The pes anserine bursa is on the inner side of the knee, between the bone and the insertion point of 3 muscles:

  • The semitendinosus.
  • The gracilis.
  • The sartorius.

When inflamed, this bursa causes pain on the inside of the knee.

Athletes and people with obesity, diabetes, and arthritis are prone to develop pes anserine bursitis.

Chronic bursitis

This type of bursitis results from a long time of repetitive pressure on the bursa. Here, the tissue adapts to give room for the excess of fluid due to chronic inflammation.

This means the bursitis is often painless. But, the swelling and thickening of the tissue are significant. (2)

Septic bursitis

This happens when any bursa becomes infected. It’s more common in superficial knee bursae, like the infrapatellar or prepatellar bursa.

It commonly occurs after (1):

  • An injury that punctures the bursa.
  • An infection that spreads through the blood to the bursa.
  • An injection to relieve the symptoms of non-septic bursitis.

What else could cause bursitis-like knee pain?

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease. It causes swelling in the joints, usually of the hands and knees.

Sadly, this condition can also increase the risk to develop bursitis. (2)

Gout

This condition causes a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. At the knee, it can mimic infrapatellar and prepatellar bursitis. (2)

Gout can also make people prone to develop septic bursitis. (2)

Knee joint osteoarthritis

This happens due to the wear down of the cartilage that protects the knee joint. It can cause severe pain and swelling around the knee.

People usually feel better with therapeutic exercise and some medication. Yet, severe cases may need a total knee replacement.

FAQs:

How do I get rid of bursitis in my knee?

To reduce inflammation, put an ice pack on the affected area 2-3 times per day. Also, take medication if possible. If it’s infected, you’ll have to take antibiotics until the fluid from the bursa is free from bacteria.

Is walking good for knee bursitis?

Yes, if walking doesn’t worsen your knee pain.

If your knee hurts more during or after walking, it’s best to rest. This will help reduce inflammation and let the bursitis heal properly.

What causes knee bursitis to flare up?

Here are common causes of knee bursitis flare-ups:

  • Repetitive motions.
  • Kneeling for long periods.
  • A direct hit on the bursa.
  • Certain inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.

Conclusion: Can knee bursitis go away?

Yes, it can go away if you follow the recommendations of your doctor and physical therapist.

I know rest can be bothersome, but it will help you get back to your normal life faster than if you push through the pain.

Avoid activities that make your pain worse and put ice on the affected area a few times per day to manage swelling.

Finally, talk to your physical therapist or doctor if you have any questions!

Resources

  1. Truong J, et al. “Septic Bursitis.” [Updated 2021 Jan 22]. StatPearls. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470331/
  2. Williams CH, Jamal Z, Sternard BT. “Bursitis.” [Updated 2021 Jan 17]. StatPearls. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513340/
  3. Lohr, Kristine. “Bursitis: Practice essentials.” [Updated 2020 Dec 11]. Medscape. Available from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2145588-overview
  4. Meric, Gokhan et al. “Endoscopic versus Open Bursectomy for Prepatellar and Olecranon Bursitis.” Cureus vol. 10,3 e2374. 27 Mar. 2018, doi:10.7759/cureus.2374
  5. Chatra, Priyank S. “Bursae around the knee joints.” The Indian journal of radiology & imaging vol. 22,1 (2012): 27-30. doi:10.4103/0971-3026.95400