What Exercise Can I Do with Knee Bursitis?

What is bursitis?

Do gentle strengthening and stretching exercises to treat knee bursitis. Heel slide, straight-leg raises and quad sets are good exercises to do if you have knee bursitis..
Do gentle strengthening and stretching exercises to treat knee bursitis. Heel slide, straight-leg raises and quad sets are good exercises to do if you have knee bursitis.

Bursitis is a condition that affects small fluid-filled sacs in your body called bursae. Located next to many of your joints, including your knee, bursae serve as cushions between bone and soft tissue. 

There are several bursae in your knee. One is located between the kneecap (patella) and the soft tissue under the skin. Other bursae are located above or below the kneecap. Some are closer to the skin, while others are deeper inside the joint.

Knee bursitis happens when one of these bursae becomes irritated and produces too much fluid. This causes painful pressure in the affected area.

The most common cause of bursitis is prolonged pressure on the knee. People who kneel on hard surfaces for long periods of time are at particularly high risk. Overuse through repetitive motion is also a common cause. 

Many people develop bursitis from kneeling or crawling for extended periods of time. Jobs like carpet laying, roofing, and house cleaning can put you at higher risk of bursitis. 

Repetitive motion can also cause bursitis, especially in the bursae that are located deeper under the skin. Runners and other athletes are more prone to this type of bursitis.  Bursitis may also develop due to an infection or internal bleeding

If you have knee bursitis, you may notice symptoms like:

  • Pain with movement
  • Fast swelling at the front of the knee
  • Tenderness to the touch
If your bursitis comes from an infection, you may also have a fever, chills, fluid, and redness in the affected area. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms to determine what type of bursitis you have. They may take fluid from the swollen area and/or perform a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to find the source of the swelling.

Remedies for bursitis

If you do have bursitis, at-home treatments can reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following actions:

  • Rest and elevate the affected leg whenever possible
  • Apply compression to the affected knee
  • Apply ice three or four times a day for 20 minutes per session 
  • Use a support tool like a brace, band, or splint

Medical treatments

For infectious bursitis, the primary treatment is antibiotics. If you have non-infectious bursitis, your doctor will probably recommend that you start with home care and over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen.

If your bursitis doesn’t improve, your doctor may recommend an injected steroid. If you still have symptoms in six months to a year, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair damage and reduce pressure.

Exercises for bursitis symptoms

When you have knee bursitis, it’s important to avoid activities that make your symptoms worse. That doesn’t mean you can’t exercise, but it does mean you have to think about substitutions. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends trying low-impact activities like cycling.

You can also do gentle strengthening and stretching exercises to help improve knee functions. Here are a few that your doctor might recommend:

Heel slide: Lie on your back with your unaffected knee bent and your affected knee straight. Slide the heel of the affected leg along the floor toward your buttock to bend the knee. Stop when you feel a gentle stretch in the knee.

Hold the stretch for 6 seconds, then slide your heel away from your body to straighten the leg. Repeat the exercise 8 to 12 times.

Straight-leg raises: Lie in the same position as you began the heel slide, on your back with your unaffected knee bent and the foot flat on the floor. Keep your affected leg straight and make sure you don’t arch your back or press your lower back into the floor.

Keeping your affected knee straight, press the back of the knee into the floor. This tightens the thigh muscles in that leg. Keeping those muscles tight, raise your leg so the heel is about a foot off the floor. Hold for 6 seconds, lower the leg slowly, and rest for 10 seconds.

Repeat the exercise 8 to 12 times.

Quad sets: Sit on the floor with your affected leg straight in front of you. Roll up a small towel and place it under the affected knee. Bend your other leg and rest the foot on the floor.

Press the back of your affected knee into the towel to tighten the thigh muscles of that leg. Hold for 6 seconds, release, and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 8 to 12 times.


Tips for exercising with bursitis

No one exercise will be right for every person with knee bursitis. The right remedies and exercises will depend on what kind of knee bursitis you have and its cause. Always check with your doctor about whether a particular exercise is safe and potentially helpful.


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MyHealth.Alberta.ca: "Knee (Prepatellar) Bursitis: Exercises."

National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Bursitis."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Bursitis."

OrthoInfo: "Prepatellar (Kneecap) Bursitis."