First of all, I’m not trying to make this sound simpler than it actually is. But, learning how to wrap a knee with bursitis isn’t all that complicated.
Long story short, you take an elastic bandage, secure the first bit below your knee, then wrap upwards in a spiral motion until you’re above the joint. That’s it.
But, that said, there are a few minor details you need to pay attention to, to make sure it’s done right. Moreover, there are other treatments you can do alongside your knee wrap. They help make your recovery go smoother.
I’m telling you about all those today, as well as answer a few other queries you might have. Let’s start with what I think is the most important, which is…
Should you wrap a knee with bursitis?
Yes, you should. In fact, treating swelling and inflammation of a limb generally includes compression wraps.
The wraps help make symptoms more manageable through gentle compression.
Where the inflamed bursa is matters very little. Whether it’s under or over your kneecap, on a tendon below the joint (i.e. pes anserine), or anywhere else.
There are several tools that can do this, too, including elastic bandages and sleeves. Let’s focus on the former first.
How to wrap a knee using a compression bandage
The spiral method is generally used to wrap anything that involves swelling. Of course, this includes your knee bursitis.
It’s also the most basic bandaging technique used by any doctor, therapist, or healthcare professional. So, you likely won’t have too much trouble putting it on yourself.
First, you’ll need:
- A 4- or 6-inch elastic bandage depending on how large your knee and leg are. Ace or any other brand should do fine.
- Locks. Some brands come with velcro, some with metal clips, while some you’ll need tape. I prefer velcros because of their convenience. But, either of these locks should be alright as long as you’re able to secure the bandage.
- Slightly bend your knee. About 25 degrees is what you’re after. A physical therapist will treat your knee in this position because it’s where there’s the least amount of contact between the bones of your joint.
- Wrap your bandage at least twice around your shin. This is so you have an anchor right below the swollen bursa.
- Continuously wrap the bandage at an upward angle. Make sure that the layers overlap each other by at least 50%. Also, apply just the right amount of tension to each wrap. The bandage might unwind itself if it’s too loose but it might also cut off circulation to your toes if it’s too tight.
- Secure the bandage with velcro, metal clips, or tape. Your wraps should end above your knees (or somewhere around your thighs).
Why does it work?
- Theoretically, you start your wraps from your shin and towards your thighs to promote circulation from your knees and back to your heart.
- The tension from the wraps also compresses your knee. This discourages fluid from pooling around your joint and, eventually, reducing inflammation.
Another not-so-talked-about benefit is that wraps are constantly in contact with your knee.
This can serve as a persistent reminder not to overexert your knees. Which, by the way, is particularly important for knee bursitis.
Alternatively, you could also use knee wraps or neoprene sleeves.
You’ve probably already seen gigantic dudes lift even heavier weights in fitness gyms. Notice how most, if not all of them are wearing some type of knee support.
These knee sleeves are also used in other sports that need a lot of knee movement. Examples include basketball, volleyball, and others.
They’re worn to help prevent knee injury and, consequently, the pain that comes with it.
That being said, knee wraps are basically the fancier and more durable versions of elastic bandages while neoprene sleeves are, well… ready-to-wear sleeves.
Elastic bandages are your cheapest option. But, your therapist might suggest wraps or sleeves depending on your specific situation.
Related to: Reviews of The 10 Best Knee Sleeves
Are there other treatments for knee bursitis?
Sure. As I mentioned, knee wrapping is only one part of treating a swollen bursa.
Generally, though, research says that you can conservatively (non-surgically) treat bursitis. But, more invasive measures are also options. (1)
Let’s talk about conservative treatment first.
Non-surgical bursitis treatment
To make things easier, all you need to remember is the acronym RICE. This means:
- Rest. This might be the best thing you can do. After all, bursitis is mostly because of repetitive movement, trauma, and extended pressure.
- Ice. Research says that ice packs (i.e. cryotherapy) slow down blood flow and nerve conduction. In turn, this helps relieve pain and swelling. Do this for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day.(2)
- Compress. A properly placed wrap can help regulate circulation around your joint. This can then help prevent fluid from pooling around your knees.
- Elevate. This does the same things ice and compression do – manipulate blood flow to reduce swelling. But, all this uses is gravity.
RICE is the first-aid treatment for bursitis. Although, there are other conservative methods, including:
- Steroid injection. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are the only ones allowed to administer this. It helps reduce swelling but also compromises the immune system. So, it won’t be used if your bursitis is viral or bacterial in nature.(3)
- Non-steroidal medication. Otherwise known as NSAIDs, these anti-inflammatory drugs aren’t as powerful as steroid injections. But, they’re nonetheless effective. Plus, they’re easier to get.
- Antibiotics. These medications are only prescribed if your doctor suspects infection as the cause of your swollen bursa.
- Physical therapy. Your therapist will administer various modalities, stretches, and exercises to reduce pain and swelling. Ultimately, this should help you return to your normal activities.
- Joint aspiration. Basically sticking a syringe in your knee to drain fluid from your bursa.
Surgical treatment for bursitis
The Winchester Hospital says that surgery of this kind normally only takes half an hour to 2 hours. So, it doesn’t take very long and you get to go home after.
More importantly, surgery is the last bursitis treatment that your doctors will consider. They will recommend it if nothing else works.
How long does bursitis in the knee last?
Bursitis generally has a good prognosis, resolving within a couple of weeks to maybe 8 weeks or so depending on the type and severity, as well as how diligent you are with your treatment.
However, bursitis has also been known to reoccur, particularly if you keep on doing the same activities without improving the mobility of your joints and the strength of its surrounding muscles (per Stanford Health Care).
Related: Why Bursitis Hurts More at night
Is compression good for bursitis?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I would argue that compression, along with rest, an ice pack, and elevation, are the best ways to treat most acute bursitis cases.
Here are a few guidelines you can follow:
- Ice your knees for 15-20 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2 days, or until you can see the swelling go down.
- Remove compression during icing but wrap your knees again afterwards. Make sure the area is dry prior to re-wrapping.
- Avoid activity that initially caused the injury as well other activities that may agravate the pain.
Is walking good for knee bursitis?
As a general rule, you want to stay away from whatever caused your bursa sacs to swell. This applies to both during and after your recovery.
So, if walking too much was what caused this, you want to avoid that, too.
However, you will eventually have to start moving again once the pain and swelling go away. In this case, do it gradually. Or, better yet, book an appointment with your doctor or therapist and get the all-clear from them.
Should I wrap my knee if it hurts?
By and large, yes.
A lot of times, pain is caused by some sort of injury. Wrapping your knee applies a gentle compression around the site, leading to better circulation and, ultimately, a smoother recovery.
Also, it can serve as a reminder that you’re not supposed to be over-exerting yourself. Remember, rest is one of the most important parts of rehabilitation and sports medicine.
How can I take care of my knee bursitis at home?
First of all, you might want to visit your trusted doctor and/or physical therapist. Patient education is part of their job which entails giving you exercises and other remedies that you can safely do at home.
- Stretching and strengthening the muscles around your knees(i.e. your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps)
- RICE-ing (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) your knees
- NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) and other medications
Knee bursitis can be easily wrapped through the spiral method and an elastic bandage, knee sleeves, or knee wraps. Doing so helps reduce inflammation which will ultimately cut the time you suffer from knee pain.
More than that, however, treating knee bursitis is a multi-angular approach that also involves strengthening the muscles around your joint, improving your mobility and mechanics, and, if needed, medication.
If none of that works, consider visiting your doctor or therapist at their office to discuss other options.
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How can bursitis be treated? 2018 Jul 26. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525763/
- Freire, Bruno, et al. “Effects of Cryotherapy Methods on Circulatory, Metabolic, Inflammatory and Neural Properties: A Systematic Review.” Fisioterapia Em Movimento, vol. 29, no. 2, 2016, pp. 389–98. Crossref, doi:10.1590/0103-5150.029.002.ao18
- NHS website. “Steroid Injections.” Nhs.Uk, 27 July 2020, www.nhs.uk/conditions/steroid-injections.