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What is Suprapatellar Bursitis?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Suprapatellar bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa sac that protects the upper front portion of the knee joint. Commonly known as knee bursitis, this condition can significantly impact knee function, causing intense pain. In addition to self-care measures, suprapatellar bursitis may necessitate the use of anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy to alleviate symptoms. Cases that do not respond to traditional treatments may require surgery.

Located just over the knee cap, the suprapatellar bursa is one of the largest bursa sacs in the knee joint. Designed to cushion the joint and prevent friction, the suprapatellar bursa can easily become irritated and inflamed. In most cases, repetitive motion or a direct blow to the suprapatellar bursa will induce bursitis symptoms. Individuals who participate in sports, sustain direct trauma to the knee joint or develop an arthritic condition of the knee are considered at greatest risk for suprapatellar bursitis.

Attributable to the physical, tell-tale signs of suprapatellar bursitis, a diagnosis may be made with a visual examination. Those whose bursitis develops acutely or in the wake of a recent injury may undergo additional testing as a precautionary measure to rule out infection or other conditions. Imaging testing, such as ultrasound, is often used to evaluate the condition of the knee joint and its surrounding soft tissues. A procedure known as aspiration, which is the needled extraction of bursa fluid for laboratory analysis, may also be performed to check for markers indicative of infection.

Oftentimes, suprapatellar bursitis will present with signs similar to those associated with arthritic conditions. Inflammation will cause the knee joint to swell and hold heat; as a result, the knee will feel warm to the touch and its texture will have a spongy quality. The affected area will generally become tender to the touch and sensitive to pressure. Symptom progression can significantly impair knee function, forcing one to limit his or her physical activity accordingly. A pronounced worsening of symptoms accompanied by fever may be indicative of infection.

Mild cases of knee bursitis usually require no treatment beyond appropriate self-care measures, such as limiting knee use, applying cold compresses and taking an over-the-counter (OTC) analgesic medication. Some cases of suprapatellar bursitis may necessitate the injection of anti-inflammatory medication directly into the affected area. Antibiotic medications may also be used to eliminate infection. Additional treatment measures can include physical therapy to promote joint flexibility and the supplementary removal of excess fluid from the knee to help alleviate swelling.

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Discussion Comments
By Mykol — On Jan 29, 2012

@julies - Has your husband tried cortisone shots? I have knee and elbow bursitis from arthritis.

When I got to the point that nothing was working, I began getting a cortisone shot every few months. I feel immediate relief from the pain when I get these shots.

The frustrating thing is you can only get them every so often, and many times the pain comes back between shots.

Surgery is not an option for me because my arthritis is in all of my joints. When my knee really starts to bother me, I try to keep it elevated as much as possible.

I also have some physical therapy exercises I work on which do help if I remember to do them every day.

By julies — On Jan 28, 2012

Has anyone had surgery to help with bursitis of the knee?

My husband lays carpet for a living and because of this he spends a large part of the day on his knees. Over the years he has developed bursitis in both of his knees.

Some days are worse than others, but it is getting harder to get relief from the pain and swelling. Some days when his knees are really bothering him, he will come home and put ice packs on them.

He takes pain medications, but this doesn't always do the trick. His doctor said the next step might have to be surgery. I am wondering how successful surgery for knee bursitis is.

If he goes back to his same job, will this be something that just comes back again?

By John57 — On Jan 27, 2012

I accidentally slammed my knee into a hitch that was sticking out from the back of a truck. My knee got pretty swollen and bruised, but I didn't think much more about it.

Because of this I developed some bursitis in my knee. It became tender and a little bit swollen. I really noticed it the most when I put any pressure on it.

If I got down on my knees when exercising or to do some cleaning, this knee really hurt. It was a strange feeling and almost felt like there was a sponge floating around inside my kneecap.

I didn't take any medication or go through any physical therapy for this. After a few months, it ended up going away on its own.

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