Prepatellar bursitis is a common and treatable condition that causes the front of your knee to swell. It happens when the bursa sac in front of your knee cap becomes inflamed. Most cases of prepatellar bursitis can be treated from home with rest.
Prepatellar bursitis (also called housemaid’s knee, carpet layer’s knee, coal miner’s knee or carpenter’s knee) is inflammation of the bursa (a fluid-filled sac) that is in front of your kneecap (patella). Prepatellar bursitis happens when your bursa is frequently irritated, damaged or infected and makes too much fluid. The extra fluid causes your bursa to swell and puts pressure on other parts of your knee. You can usually “see” prepatellar bursitis because the front of your knee will look swollen.
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An adult person has more than 150 bursae (plural for “bursa”) throughout their body. A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that cushions an area where your bone would otherwise rub on your muscle, tendons or skin. By padding these areas, bursae help prevent friction and inflammation.
When your bursa sac is repeatedly irritated, damaged or infected, its thin lining thickens and makes extra fluid. The extra fluid collects in your bursa sac and causes it to swell. This is called bursitis. Bursitis most often happens to bursae around joints. Prepatellar bursitis is the second most common type of bursitis.
There are two types of the condition: Acute prepatellar bursitis and chronic prepatellar bursitis. Acute prepatellar bursitis happens when there’s sudden damage to your bursa in front of your kneecap. This usually happens from trauma (such as a forceful impact to your knee) or an infection. Chronic bursitis usually happens from repeated overuse or pressure to your knee, such as frequent kneeling.
Anyone can get prepatellar bursitis, but it more commonly affects men between the ages of 40 and 60. Chronic prepatellar bursitis most commonly affects people who have jobs or hobbies that involve frequent kneeling, such as carpentry, house cleaning, plumbing and gardening. Children are more likely to develop septic prepatellar bursitis (an infection of the prepatellar bursa).
Prepatellar bursitis is fairly common. There isn’t an exact number of cases per year because many people have mild prepatellar bursitis and don’t need to seek treatment from a healthcare professional. Prepatellar bursitis is the second most common form of bursitis and is a common cause of knee swelling and inflammation.
There are a few situations and conditions that can cause prepatellar bursitis, including:
The symptoms of prepatellar bursitis depend on what type and how severe the bursitis is. There are three general signs of prepatellar bursitis, but you don’t have to have all three signs to have prepatellar bursitis. The three signs include:
If you have prepatellar bursitis that is caused by an infection, you’ll likely have additional symptoms, including:
If you’re experiencing these symptoms of infection, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider immediately or go to the nearest hospital. Infected prepatellar bursitis needs medical treatment. If left untreated, it can cause serious and life-threatening complications.
Your healthcare provider can usually diagnose prepatellar from a physical exam. Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your symptoms and history. They’ll then perform a physical exam to check for pain and tenderness and the range of motion of your affected knee. Imaging tests can also help confirm a prepatellar bursitis diagnosis or rule out other possible conditions.
Specific tests that can be used to help diagnose prepatellar bursitis or rule out other possible conditions include:
The treatment for prepatellar bursitis depends on if your bursa is inflamed or infected. Most cases of prepatellar bursitis that just involve inflammation can be treated from home without medical intervention. If an infection is the cause of the prepatellar bursitis, antibiotics are needed to treat it.
Treatment for prepatellar bursitis that involves just an inflamed bursa can include:
Treatment for prepatellar bursitis that involves an infection can include the following:
The following things are considered risk factors for developing prepatellar bursitis:
There are a few things you can do to try to prevent prepatellar bursitis, including:
Most cases of prepatellar bursitis can be treated from home with rest, ice and elevation, and don’t have any lasting side effects. Chronic prepatellar bursitis may be more difficult to treat, especially if you have a job that requires frequent kneeling. Your healthcare team will come up with a treatment plan that works best for you and your situation.
If left untreated, prepatellar bursitis that involves an infection can lead to severe complications such as septic shock and death. It’s essential to contact your healthcare provider immediately or go to the nearest hospital if you’re experiencing symptoms of an infection.
With rest and treating your prepatellar bursitis from home, the swelling and other symptoms usually go away in a couple of weeks. If your prepatellar bursitis doesn’t get better after two or three weeks of rest, reach out to your healthcare provider. You may need medical treatment.
Prepatellar bursitis that doesn’t go away or comes and goes frequently is called chronic prepatellar bursitis. If left untreated, chronic prepatellar bursitis can last months or even years.
If you’re experiencing a fever and chills and other signs of an infection, contact your healthcare provider immediately or go to the nearest hospital. Prepatellar bursitis that involves an infection needs immediate medical treatment.
If you’ve been treating your prepatellar bursitis that is just inflamed (not infected) at home and it hasn’t gotten better after two or three weeks, contact your healthcare provider. You may need medical treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Prepatellar bursitis is a common condition that can usually be treated from home with rest. If your prepatellar bursitis is affecting your day-to-day life or doesn’t get better after a couple of weeks, reach out to your healthcare provider. If you’re experiencing symptoms of an infection, such as a fever or redness and warmth on the affected area, be sure to seek medical care as soon as possible.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/07/2021.
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