Prepatellar bursitis is also referred to as Housemaid’s knee or carpenter’s knee. A ‘bursa’ is a membrane with contains a substance known as synovial fluid which reduces friction in the articulating structures which move within a joint. The prepatellar bursa is one of several bursae in the knee and lies between the patella (knee cap) and the skin, making it superficial and prone to irritation. Inflammation of a bursa is called bursitis in which 30% of cases arise from infection (70% non-infectious).
This condition is seen more often in males with 80% of cases being males between 40-60 years of age and two thirds of cases being non-infectious. Prepatellar bursitis stemming from infection is more common in children.
Management is dictated by the cause yet the initial focus of treatment is to reduce inflammation. The RICE protocol: rest, ice compression and elevation , is commonly utilised over the first 72 hours to treat prepatellar bursitis (van den Bekerom et al., 2012). Within this regime it is worth noting that a brief period of rest (2-4 days) is recommended to allow symptoms and irritation to settle. Also, when applying ice do not exceed 20 minutes and be sure to have something between the source and your skin to prevent any damage. Compression and elevation will assist with swelling reduction.
Pharmaceuticals can be used to support these goals in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and topical creams/sprays/gels applied to the skin in the affected area. We advise that you consult with a Pharmacist to discuss this.
In cases of considerable swelling and function is significantly reduced, the input of a GP may be necessary to drain the fluid – thus relieving pressure, and to send a sample test for infection. Should an infection be present, antibiotics will be considered.
Once the inflammation and swelling has reduced, restoring normal soft tissue flexibility and increasing strength can begin which is key for this condition (McAfee & Smith, 1988). This is important so that you can return to your normal activities and will help to reduce friction on the affected structures and mitigate the likelihood of re-occurrence. Your Physiotherapist will help create a bespoke and progressive self-management and rehabilitation programme to help manage your symptoms and improve strength and function. An emphasis should be placed on increase quadriceps strength using progressive, functional exercises. Activity modification recommendations may also be offered to help prevent further issues such as wearing knee pads if you spend time in kneeling and implementing small breaks throughout your day to change your position.
Huang, Y. C., & Yeh, W. L. (2011). Endoscopic treatment of prepatellar bursitis. International orthopaedics, 35(3), 355-358.
McAfee, J. H., & Smith, D. L. (1988). Olecranon and prepatellar bursitis. Diagnosis and treatment. Western Journal of Medicine, 149(5), 607.
van den Bekerom, M. P., Struijs, P. A., Blankevoort, L., Welling, L., Van Dijk, C. N., & Kerkhoffs, G. M. (2012). What is the evidence for rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy in the treatment of ankle sprains in adults?. Journal of athletic training, 47(4), 435-443.