How Long Does Bursitis In The Knee Last?

Knee with bursitis

The majority of knee bursitis cases are mild. Most get better on their own, but the knee pain can be frustrating. So, how long does bursitis in the knee last?

Your inflamed bursa may get better after 10 days or it may need several weeks. The duration of the condition varies depending on factors such as the type of bursitis, what caused it, how you’re treating it, and your lifestyle and medical history.

I’ll use the types to detail the average recovery times. But here’s a list of topics you’ll find here:

How long does each type of knee bursitis last?

Septic bursitis

This means your bursitis has an infection. So, this type of bursitis lasts at least the duration of your antibiotic treatment. It tends to be at least 10 days. (1)

The symptoms of septic bursitis are like non-infected bursitis. But the treatment is different. To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will perform some tests. (1)

First, a physical exam. Your doctor will check your knee’s range of motion. Also, the swelling size and other bursitis symptoms.

Once the diagnosis of knee bursitis is clear, you have to rule out an infection.

So, the next step may include blood tests. Or an analysis of the fluid in the bursa. This will show whether it’s infected and by which bacteria.

If it’s septic, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. You’ll probably feel less knee pain and swelling after a few days. But, you must complete the antibiotic treatment to avoid reinfection. (1)

Prepatellar bursitis

This is the most common type of knee bursitis, also known as ” housemaid’s knee” or “carpet layer’s knee.”

It’s also the second most common bursitis overall. The first place goes to olecranon bursitis. That’s the inflammation of the bursa on the tip of the elbow. (2)

Prepatellar bursitis affects the prepatellar bursa. This bursa sits on top of the kneecap. The location makes it prone to swelling after prolonged kneeling.

It’s easy to get septic bursitis in this bursa. The skin above the prepatellar bursa is thin, so a wound can introduce bacteria. This makes prepatellar bursitis prone to infection.

So, the recovery for prepatellar bursitis may take at least:

  • 10 days if it has an infection.
  • 3-4 weeks if it’s fresh.
  • +4 weeks if it’s chronic. More about chronic bursitis below.

Infrapatellar bursitis

We have two infrapatellar knee bursae:

  • The superficial infrapatellar bursa, sitting on the patellar tendon.
  • The deep infrapatellar bursa, under the patellar tendon.

The superficial can develop infrapatellar bursitis with prolonged kneeling. But, the contact surface is below the kneecap. Not on top of it, like with the prepatellar bursa. (3)

It’s rare to have inflammation on the deep infrapatellar bursa. (3)

Superficial infrapatellar bursitis is common in members of the clergy. That’s why it’s also known as “clergyman’s knee.” The knee swelling looks like a bump below the kneecap.

The recovery timeline is like prepatellar bursitis. Depends on whether it has an infection, it’s fresh, or chronic.

Pes anserine bursitis

The pes anserine bursa is on the inner side of the knee. Sandwiched between three tendons and a bone. Its recovery depends on the cause of bursitis.

Most cases start after a direct hit in the area. The recovery time will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Mild knee bursitis may recover in a few weeks with home care. (4)

Pes anserine bursitis is also common in running and jumping sports.

Excessive friction from the tendons can cause swelling on the bursa. (4)

If that’s the case, recovery will be faster with proper rest. It’s best to also go to a physical therapist. They can help you get back into sports without knee pain.

Yet, some health conditions can predispose you to this knee bursitis.

Pes anserine bursitis is common in people with obesity and/or knee arthritis. Also, in people with previous knee joint injuries. (4)

Here, the time of recovery varies widely. You may need to treat the underlying condition first. That will dictate how long the knee bursitis lasts.

Chronic bursitis

This is persistent knee bursitis. Here, the bursa fills with liquid to adapt to the pressure. Over time, the tissue gets thicker and the swelling is permanent. (5)

The process of adaptation tends to be painless. But, it can’t be undone. The bursa won’t get less thick on its own. The end result is a big lump on the site of the bursa. (5)

The treatment focuses on managing pain if any. The problem is mostly aesthetic. (5)

Prepatellar and infrapatellar knee bursitis are prone to be chronic. At least compared to other types of knee bursitis. (2, 3)

For further reading: The different types of bursitis and their symptoms

What are the best treatments for knee pain due to bursitis?

Home remedies

Most people can manage their knee bursitis symptoms at home. Given the bursitis isn’t infected, of course.

First, rest is key. Movement and friction can worsen the inflamed bursa. Don’t push through the pain and you’ll be fine.

Try using ice packs to reduce knee swelling and ease the pain. Or wrap a compressive wrap around the inflamed knee. Combining the ice with the compression can reduce swelling even more.

Anti-inflammatory medication may help you reduce pain as well.

If these remedies aren’t enough, there are other treatments to try:

Physical therapy

A physical therapist is your best ally during recovery.

Your physical therapist will start with proper swelling management. This may include treatments with temperatures, manual techniques, or stretching exercises. This will decrease pain too.

Afterward, the physical therapist will give you a strengthening program. This will help you prevent future episodes of bursitis.

If you’re an athlete, you may need a sports medicine physical therapist.

They will make sure you optimize the strength and flexibility of your knees. This, in turn, will prevent recurrent bursitis.

And, a physical therapist will provide sound medical advice, including recommendations that keep your bursa healthy.

It will be easier to recover if you have a qualified PT in your corner. So, if you’re having trouble finding a PT in your locality, we can help.

For further reading: How a physical therapist can fix your knee bursitis

Corticosteroid injection

Corticosteroid drugs may reduce inflammation and pain in the short term. (3)

They may help a fresh bursitis that doesn’t improve after 14 days. They’re not so good with persistent bursitis, though. (5)

Also, the injection can introduce bacteria. This can cause a bursitis infection. (5)

Surgical drainage

This consists of draining the excess fluid in the inflamed bursa. It can help an infection that’s not responding to treatment.

To do this, orthopaedic surgeons can make an incision on the bursa. Or do an aspiration with a syringe. Both procedures reduce swelling immediately.

Surgical removal of the bursa

This is the last resort. People with persistent bursitis may need to get it removed. This will avoid recurrent episodes of bursitis.

The orthopedic surgeon will need some imaging tests before surgery. This will show the size of the fluid-filled sac on your knee.

After the surgery, you may need treatment to recover. Including working with a physical therapist to heal the affected area.

Causes and risk factors of bursitis in the knee joint

Most cases of non-infected knee bursitis share similar causes (3):

  • Prolonged kneeling.
  • Overuse of the knee muscles due to an athletic activity.
  • A direct hit on the knee bursa.

Also, people with these conditions are at risk of having an inflamed bursa (1, 3):

  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Knee osteoarthritis.
  • Diabetes.
  • Gout.
  • Alcoholism.
  • A previous non-infected bursitis.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to prevent it:

How to prevent knee bursitis

First, avoid kneeling often. If you have to kneel due to your occupation or hobby, wear knee pads. They will reduce the impact of hard surfaces.

Also, take breaks after kneeling for a long period. This will protect the fluid-filled sacs from swelling.

Strengthen and improve flexibility on your knee joints too. This will reduce friction over time. A certified personal trainer can help you with this.

And if you’re an athlete, address muscle weaknesses. Work on improving your technique as well. This can reduce the friction on the bursa.

Other ways to prevent inflamed bursae on your knees include:

  • Losing weight if your BMI is >25.
  • Keeping the underlying health condition under control, like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Go back to your normal activities bit by bit. Don’t push through the pain to avoid a relapse.

FAQs:

Is walking good for knee bursitis?

Yes! It can be a great rehabilitation tool. If it doesn’t make your symptoms worse, of course.

How long does knee bursitis take to go away?

Septic bursitis needs at least 10 days of antibiotics to get better. Most cases of non-infected bursitis take a few weeks.

Can I drain knee bursitis myself?

You can drain the bursa fluid with rest, ice, and other home remedies. But, don’t drain the fluid with a syringe. You risk infecting the knee bursitis.

Conclusion: Timeline of recovery for knee bursitis

After the diagnosis, your bursitis may need at least 10 days if it’s infected. A few weeks if it’s fresh, and more if it’s recurrent.

It may take more or less if you have underlying health conditions. Arthritis or gout can delay the recovery process, for example.

Some people may need surgical drainage or removal. This can prolong the recovery time as well.

But, whichever the case, you’ll get better faster if you go to a physical therapist. Physical therapy will help you treat inflammation, reduce knee pain, and prevent future episodes!

Resources

  1. Truong J, Mabrouk A. “Septic Bursitis.” [Updated on 2021 Jan 22]. StatPearls. Retrieved on August, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470331/
  2. Rishor-Olney C R, Pozun A. “Prepatellar Bursitis.” [Updated on 2021 Jun 5]. StatPearls. Retrieved on August, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557508/
  3. Lohr, Kristine. “Bursitis: Practice essentials.” Medscape. Retrieved on August, 2021 from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2145588-overview
  4. Mohseni M, Graham C. “Pes Anserine Bursitis.” [Updated on 2021 Jul 18]. StatPearls. Retrieved on August, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532941/
  5. Williams C H, Jamal Z, Sternard B T et al. “Bursitis.” [Updated on 2021 Jan 17]. StatPearls. Retrieved on August, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513340/