Recovery Time For Knee Bursitis & Treatment Options
Bursitis in the knee is both a common and frustrating condition to have. Knee bursitis varies wildly in its severity and can be treated in a number of different ways.
Luckily, I have suffered from multiple types of bursitis in both knees. As an athlete, I can share my experiences recovering and treating this injury.
Below, I’ll highlight knee bursitis recovery time, bursitis treatment options, and discuss what types of medical interventions are needed.
What is the recovery time for knee bursitis?
Everyone wants to know, “how long does bursitis last“? There are several types of knee bursitis — and in my experience — each has a slightly different recovery time.
Types of knee bursitis include:
- Prepatellar Bursitis.
- Infrapatellar Bursitis.
- Superficial Infrapatellar Bursitis.
- Deep Infrapatellar Bursitis.
- Suprapatellar Bursitis.
- Pes Anserine Bursitis.
- Medial Collateral Ligament Bursitis.
Prepatellar bursitis, infrapatellar bursitis, and superficial infrapatellar bursitis are all fairly transient. This means they can appear quickly out of nowhere, but also dissipate quickly if proper treatment is applied.
This type of bursitis will often come on strong for 2-3 days but will return to normal within a week. Typically, the first few days are particularly bad (redness, swelling, bruising sensation, stiffness). This usually subsides after 48 hours. In less than a week, the knee is typically back to normal (sans a little swelling if you retain a lot of fluid).
The other forms of bursitis can be a little more pronounced and long-lasting. This means they come on slower and are easier to see coming; however, recovery time is typically a little longer and harder to predict.
These forms of knee bursitis typically take about 3-4 days to reach their worst form and then will often persist for 2-3 weeks in some cases.
Which type of knee bursitis do I have?
One easy way to identify knee bursitis is by understanding the location along with circumstances. This means where the potential bursitis is along with how quickly you began feeling the pain.
Prepatellar bursitis, infrapatellar bursitis, and superficial infrapatellar bursitis all come on fairly quickly. It’s common to see the knee bursitis form after waking up in the morning. Usually, this bursitis attacks after physical activity has ceased for a number of hours.
All forms of patellar bursitis are located in the front of the knee. Prepatellar bursitis is typically felt right below the kneecap at the very top of the shin (also called housemaids knee).
These forms will often start as a small bruised feeling, then about 6-8 hours later, the knee will begin to swell and stiffen. This is usually accompanied by moderate pain.
Other forms of bursitis usually take a little longer before they reach peak swelling and painfulness.
Often patients will notice that the area feels slightly bruised or stiff for a day or two before the more serious symptoms begin (redness, swelling, pain).
The exact type is best identified by using the image above.
What are knee bursitis symptoms?
Typical knee bursitis symptoms are:
- The onset of symptoms quickly without warning
- Localized swelling
- Moderate heat at the point of swelling
- Pain (with a bruising sensation)
Could it be an infection or knee ligament injury instead?
This is where having a medical professional handy can be a huge assist.
If you have another injury, like ligament damage etc. responsible for swelling, you will almost certainly remember an event that caused the injury in question. Read about MCL and knee injury diagnosis here.
If you cannot recall a specific event that caused the knee injury, then it very well could be bursitis. It could also be an infection (specifically a staph infection). Or worse, it could also be both!
If you have any reason to suspect an infection, head to an urgent care as soon as possible. If it is an infection, the longer it goes on the harder it will be to get rid of. You can read about treating infections like MRSA here.
It is very hard to tell the difference between bursitis and a staph infection at times.
Here’s a couple of major warnings signs that it might be an infection (or infected bursae):
- Intense pain when standing up
- Extreme heat
- Quickly spreading redness
If you’re not sure, trace around the reddened area with a marker. If you see it growing over a 24-48 hour period, its possible its an infection.
Having a medical professional take a look would be a really good idea if you suspect an infection of any kind.
How do I treat knee bursitis?
I wish I could tell you there was a magic instant cure, but there isn’t. Having suffered dozens of times from bursitis, time is the most important ingredient in a knee bursitis recovery program.
Outside of recovery time and rest — which should be obvious — there are a few things you can do to greatly enhance your recovery time.
As someone who has done the opposite, I recommend heavy rest of the knee. This means keeping the knee elevated with ice on it. I have made the mistake of continuing to try to push through it and do some normal activities — while obviously restricted — but every time it exacerbated the severity and length of the injury.
Take a few dies and really baby the knee bursitis — regardless of the type. If you can tolerate them, NSAIDs really will help you recover a bit faster.
There has been a lot of documentation recently about effects of NSAIDs on SIBO, gut lining, and chronic inflammation, so I generally recommend people avoid them; however, using them as a tool in a knee bursitis recovery program can be quite helpful.
Ibuprofen is sort of the gold standard in my opinion. There have been multiple NSAID studies with knee bursitis. Almost all of them show that Ibuprofen is just as effective as all other NSAIDs; including prescription ones like indomethacin.
Other treatments for knee bursitis that I personally felt sped up recovery time
- (vaping worked far better than ingesting it or by a topical application)
- Ultrasound (most chiropractors and physical therapists can do this)
- You can also buy your own pretty cheap
- I found this to help a lot when I had it done for 20 minutes +
Do I need to see a doctor for knee bursitis?
If you can correctly diagnose it yourself, there is nothing a medical doctor can do to speed up your healing.
They can only recommend the steps above. They can also write prescriptions for NSAIDs — but as we stated above — ibuprofen has been proven equally effective.
Do I need an X-Ray or MRI for bursitis?
You do not need X-Rays or an MRI.
Many times overzealous medical professionals will want to CYA so they will order these diagnostics. If you do not remember specifically injuring your knee, these diagnostics are largely wasteful. In most cases, you can get doctors to not do them.
Where a doctor is needed is if you’re unsure of the diagnosis. For example, If you think your knee is infected, you need a doctor to help you treat that.
When in doubt, seek real medical help.
What about chronic bursitis in the knee?
Chronic bursitis is best treated alongside an orthopedic doctor.
They can help you navigate the risks and benefits of things like Cortisone shots. I once had a cortisone shot in my knee for bursitis and the results were great. I have heard other stories, but my experience was extremely positive.