What is Patellar Bursitis?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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Patellar bursitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the kneecap. Historically referred to as housemaid's knee, patellar bursitis usually presents with symptoms of pain and inflammation that can restrict one’s mobility and make participating in various physical activities difficult. Treatment for patellar knee bursitis usually involves the administration of anti-inflammatory medications and, in some cases, physical therapy to reduce inflammation and improve joint function.

Knee bursitis is a progressive condition that may initially manifest due to a variety of situations. The repeated application of pressure to the kneecap, such as when kneeling, can cause inflammation and discomfort contributing to the development of patellar bursitis. Most individuals may develop knee bursitis if they have sustained repeated falls that directly impact their knee or have suffered a direct-impact injury to the knee joint. Other factors that may contribute to the development of prepatellar and patellar bursitis include the presence of a chronic, arthritic condition, such as gout, or a bacterial infection within the knee joint.


A diagnosis of patellar bursitis is generally made during a palpatory and physical examination of the knee joint. In the presence of fluid accumulation, an aspiration procedure may be performed, which involves the extraction of a fluid sample with a small, hollowed needle. Sometimes, a battery of additional testing may be ordered to discount the presence of infection or other markers indicative of disease. Individuals may undergo imaging tests, such as X-ray and ultrasound, to further evaluate the condition of the knee joint and confirm the presence of bursitis.

Individuals with early-stage knee bursitis, known as prepatellar bursitis, may notice slight discomfort and inflammation of the knee joint that progressively worsens with continued activity. It is not uncommon for the kneecap to occasionally feel warm or exhibit swelling with continued use. As the patellar bursitis worsens, the warmth and discomfort that was initially episodic will become chronic in presentation. Symptomatic individuals may also experience tenderness or sharp pain when pressure is applied to the affected knee.

Treatment for patellar bursitis generally involves proactive measures on behalf of the individual to limit physical activity that may further strain or place pressure on the affected knee. Depending on the severity of one’s symptoms, anti-inflammatory medications may be utilized, such as corticosteroid injections, to reduce inflammation and improve joint function. In the presence of infection, an antibiotic medication will generally be administered to eliminate the bacterial presence that is inducing symptoms. Physical therapy also may be suggested for individuals whose mobility has been affected. Severe presentations of patellar bursitis that prove unresponsive to traditional treatment may necessitate surgery to restore joint functionality.


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