Kneecap (Prepatellar) Bursitis

What is kneecap bursitis?

Bursitis is an irritation or inflammation of a bursa in your knee. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that surrounds joints or tendons. A bursa reduces friction by cushioning muscles or tendons and bones that move back and forth across each other.

There are several bursae in the knee. The prepatellar bursa is located just in front of the kneecap near the attachment of the kneecap (patellar) tendon. Prepatellar bursitis is also called housemaid's knee because maids got it from cleaning floors on their knees. The injury is common in wrestlers, who get it from their knees rubbing on the mats. Volleyball players get it from diving onto their knees for the ball.

What is the cause?

Bursitis can result from:

  • Overuse
  • A direct blow to the knee
  • Chronic friction, such as from frequent kneeling

What are the symptoms?

Prepatellar bursitis causes pain and swelling over the front of the knee. You may have pain when you bend or straighten your leg.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your knee for tenderness over the bursa. He or she may use a needle and syringe to get a sample of fluid from the bursa to check for infection and look for other causes of the bursitis. You may have X-rays and blood tests.

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Rest the joint that is hurting. Raise your knee on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Do not put any pressure on the sore and swollen area until the swelling subsides.
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your knee every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time until the pain goes away.
  • Wear a knee sleeve or an elastic bandage around your knee to reduce any swelling or to prevent swelling from occurring.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Your provider may give you a shot of steroid medicine into the swollen bursa.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

Your healthcare provider may need to remove some of the fluid within the bursa if it is very swollen.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How long will the effects last?

The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the injury. The pain from prepatellar bursitis is usually gone within a few weeks although there may be painless swelling for up to several months.

How can I help prevent prepatellar bursitis?

Prepatellar bursitis is best prevented by avoiding direct blows to the kneecap area and by avoiding prolonged kneeling. Proper protective kneepads will help prevent inflammation of the bursa.

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