A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that helps to provide a cushion and to reduce friction between the bones, tendons, and ligaments of your joints. There are many bursae located throughout your body.
Your suprapatellar bursa can be found just above your knee. It’s located between your femur (thigh bone) and your quadriceps tendon. Check out this diagram of the knee for more information.
The suprapatellar bursa helps to allow the quadriceps tendons to move more easily over your femur when you bend and straighten your knee.
Bursitis occurs when one of your bursae becomes inflamed or irritated. This can commonly occur at joints that receive a lot of use, such as the shoulder, elbow, and knee.
Suprapatellar bursitis is when your suprapatellar bursa becomes inflamed. Read on to learn more about this condition and how it’s diagnosed and treated.
If you’ve developed suprapatellar bursitis, you may experience the following symptoms just above your knee joint:
- dull, achy pain or tenderness
- swelling or redness
- loss or reduction in motion
You may feel these symptoms when you put pressure on the area through activities such as kneeling, jumping, or running. You may also feel symptoms when you’re at rest.
Additionally, depending on what caused your bursitis, symptoms may come on suddenly or gradually. For example, symptoms may come on suddenly if you were to take a hard fall onto your knee.
Conversely, symptoms may appear more slowly when there’s repeated use or stress to the area, such as from kneeling often or for extended periods.
Suprapatellar bursitis can be caused by any of the following things:
- a direct blow, fall, or injury in the area of the suprapatellar bursa
- frequent, recurring pressure or stress to the area due to activities such as kneeling or jumping
- bacterial infection in the knee
- inflammation due to complications of other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
Your doctor will first take your medical history and perform an examination of your knee. This can include things like:
- comparing the state of both of your knees
- testing the range of motion of the affected knee
- touching the area around your affected knee to check for swelling, tenderness, or warmth
- checking to see if there are also signs of infection in your suprapatellar bursa
They’ll then use imaging tests to help them visualize and diagnose your bursitis. Imaging tests that may be used can include:
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Additionally, your doctor may order blood tests to confirm or rule out other conditions that could be affecting your knee, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
If infection of your suprapatellar bursa is suspected, your doctor may use a needle to remove a small amount of fluid from the bursa for testing. This process is called aspiration.
Treatment of suprapatellar bursitis can include:
- resting and avoiding activities that could irritate the area, such as kneeling, jumping, or running
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help relieve pain and swelling
- applying an ice pack to the area to ease swelling (remember to never apply an ice pack directly to your skin — wrap it in a towel or cloth first)
- using a knee brace to stabilize and limit movement of the area
- taking a course of antibiotics if an infection is present (be sure to take the entire course, even if you begin to feel better)
If your bursitis isn’t responding to standard treatment, your doctor may choose to inject a corticosteroid into the affected area to relieve swelling in the absence of infection.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help with strength and flexibility in the area surrounding your knees. This can help reduce stress on the knee and may also reduce the risk of a recurrence.
Severe or recurring cases of bursitis may also be treated through drainage or surgical removal of the suprapatellar bursa.
You can do simple exercises at home to help increase strength and flexibility in your knee area. This can help keep your knees healthy and prevent another case of bursitis.
If you’re unsure about any stretch or exercise, be sure to speak to your doctor before doing them.
Example stretches and exercises include:
Standing quadriceps stretch:
- Bend your knee, bringing your heel up to your buttocks.
- Grasp your ankle and pull it closer to your body, holding the position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times and then do the same on the opposite leg.
- Sit up straight in a sturdy chair.
- Begin to tighten your thigh muscles and slowly raise one of your lower legs so that it’s parallel to the floor, holding the position for 5 seconds.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 with each leg.
You can add light (2- to 5-pound) ankle weights as this exercise becomes easier.
- Grab the back of a sturdy chair.
- Bend your knee so that your heel is raised toward the ceiling, holding for 5 seconds.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 with each leg.
Like the leg extensions, you may add a light ankle weight as this exercise becomes easier to perform.
Additionally, you can follow the guidelines below to help prevent suprapatellar bursitis:
- Exercise regularly and stay in shape. Being overweight or obese puts additional pressure on your knees and can be a risk for developing bursitis.
- If you must kneel often or for long periods, be sure to wear kneepads and take regular breaks to stand and stretch. You can also use a cushion to help reduce pressure on your knees if you don’t have kneepads.
- Avoid activities that involve repeated or repetitive movement of the knee. Mix up your workouts in order to prevent overuse.
- Be sure to warm up and cool down properly after a workout. Skipping these important parts of a workout can put more stress on your joints.
- Use a gradual approach when starting a new exercise program or increasing the intensity of an existing program.
The recovery time for suprapatellar bursitis can vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition.
Typically, you’ll be able to return to your normal activities in two to six weeks. Be sure to carefully follow your doctor’s guidelines as to when you can resume normal activities.
You can help aid your recovery by modifying your daily activities in order to avoid motions that are repetitive or that could irritate your knee.
Additionally, you should talk to your doctor about gentle exercises to maintain strength and flexibility and help to reduce stress to your knee during recovery.
Most cases of suprapatellar bursitis will resolve over several weeks with conservative treatment. This can include things like rest, OTC pain medications, and icing.
More severe or recurring bursitis may be treated with methods such as draining or removal of the suprapatellar bursa.
Talk to your doctor about any new knee pain you’re having. Earlier diagnosis leads to earlier treatment and better outcomes, so you can be back to your normal activity level sooner.