I am writing this article as I just healed my knee bursitis, dodging a bullet that could have taken me out of running for many weeks and months. The knee pain was sudden and acute, and made it difficult to sleep.
I want to help you avoid being sidelined by knee bursitis, so I am sharing my experience.
Even though I’ve been running most my life and have suffered from some serious running injuries the past few years, my knees have always been healthy. Indeed, running is good for your knees and joint health.
My bursitis of the knee came from an ill-choice of footwear when NOT running. It struck me fast and furiously. It was a painful injury and I want to help other runners not panic and overcome knee bursitis by sharing what helped me.
In this article, I will explain:
- My experience with knee bursitis
- What is knee bursitis?
- What causes knee bursitis?
- What are symptoms of knee bursitis?
- How do you treat knee bursitis?
- Can you run with knee bursitis?
- Plus do’s and don’ts of running with knee bursitis
So, let’s go!
My experience with knee bursitis
I got knee bursitis not from running but from an ill choice in shoes one night out. The bursa sac in my knee became inflamed after wearing wedges. I was on my annual trip with my friends from high school. Our first night I wore wedges, thinking we wouldn’t walk far since the restaurant was in our hotel.
But then we ended up walking a lot and my hip started to ache. On my run the next day, my quad felt very tight and burned. It continued to feel tight. About a week later I was on an easy 10 mile run when suddenly, my knee felt like a tendon got stuck in the wrong place or the joint needed to be cracked.
The knee pain when running was sudden and acute.
I stopped and cycled my leg and stretched by quad. However, my knee hurt throughout the rest of my run. When I finished my run, the sharp pain in my knee was so intense it was hard to walk and going downstairs was near impossible.
The next two nights, my knee throbbed and ached. I couldn’t sleep. The pain was so intense I began to wonder if I tore something. It also gave out a couple of times when walking.
Related: Free Return to Running Plan
My knee was slightly swollen. I applied ice and heat, took NSAIDs and waited—seeing a doctor a few days later. She diagnosed me with bursitis of the knee and tendonitis of the patella (runner’s knee).
The thought was that the hip and quad became tight, pulling on the knee causing it to become irritated and inflamed. The doctor told to treat it at home and if it didn’t calm down, I could a cortisone shot the following week.
Below I will detail what helped my knee bursitis and how I returned to running.
What is bursitis of the knee?
So, what exactly is knee bursitis? Knee bursitis or prepatellar bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa, which is a small fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between moving parts in the kneecap (patella).
Bursitis happens when the bursa becomes irritated and produces too much fluid. This causes it to swell which then puts pressure on the other parts of the knee. Bursitis is often accompanied by tendonitis of the knee also called runner’s knee.
What causes knee bursitis?
Knee bursitis can be caused by an infection of the bursa, a blow to the knee, or repetitive movement of the knee. Overuse of the knee is the most common reason why runner’s get bursitis.
Symptoms of knee bursitis
- Pain to the inside side of the kneecap and often below the kneecap at the patellar tendon
- Pain when pressure is applied to the kneecap (such as when kneeling)
- Hurts when going up and down stairs and with repetitive bending
- Swelling below and at the front of the kneecap
- Possible tenderness and warmth to the touch
- If you have an infection of the bursa, you’ll most likely have a fever and chills
Can you run with knee bursitis?
You should not run with knee bursitis as it can make it worse. Repetitive motion aggravates the bursa sac in your knee, worsening the inflammation and the pain. If you have sudden knee pain that hurts when you bend your knee, it is best to rest and treat for inflammation.
I advise not trying to run until you have had 2-3 days of no to little pain during your daily activities. I tried running after one day of minimal pain and my knee pain came right back.
How do you treat knee bursitis in runners?
You treat knee bursitis by decreasing the inflammation. Here is how I treated my knee bursitis at home:
- Took Advil (or ibuprofen) every 4-6 hours up to 800 mg
- Ice and heat 3-4 times a day
- Knee strap that fits at the base of the kneecap with tight compression
- Applied Voltaren arthritis pain relief cream 4 times a day to the front and back of the knee
- No running but I did do the elliptical at an easy pace and light strength training for 6 days before resuming running
I also continued to take my Previnex Joint Health PLUS supplement which is proven to reduce joint pain in a week, or your money back. I am a huge believer in Previnex supplements and have partnered with them. You can save 15% with code TMR15.
If your pain does not improve, you may receive a cortisone shot or have the bursa sac drained. If you have bursitis due to an infection, you will need antibiotics.
How long does knee bursitis last?
Knee bursitis typically lasts for several weeks. If you do not rest your knee, it can last for months.
My knee with bursitis hurt acutely for about four days. Then the pain began to improve during day activities. I waited three more days before returning to running.
If you rest your knee and treat it at home, and it doesn’t feel better after two weeks, see a doctor. You may need the help of a cortisone shot or have the bursa sac drained. If you do get a cortisone shot, I would be clear on when you can safely return to running.
Many doctors give runners too short of a timeframe for returning to running—putting you at risk for a rupture or tear. In most cases, you should wait a week to return to running after a cortisone injection.
Does knee bursitis heal on its own?
Yes, knee bursitis can heal on its own—but it may need at-home interventions to spur healing or accelerate healing. Home interventions include rest, ice, and heat, and NSAIDs.
How do you wrap a knee for knee bursitis?
Wear a knee strap for runner’s knee for knee bursitis. You can buy this knee strap on Amazon or find it in your local pharmacy. I got mine at CVS. I found it best to have it wrapped around the lower part of the kneecap as tight as you can.
When I returned to running, I would stop repeatedly and re-tighten the strap. The compression helped ease my kneecap pain.
How do you return to running with knee bursitis?
Most runners get reinjured when they return to running too fast. They do their first run and feel pretty good, so they ramp right back up to where they were before taking a break. I have done this many times and the outcomes are never good. When runners do this, they reaggravate their injury and end up having to take more time off.
At the time of my knee bursitis, I was running 70 miles per week.
- I took 6 days off of running but did the elliptical for 90 minutes each day at an easy effort to not aggravate my knee.
- My first run back, I ran 5 miles on a flat surface with minimal turns. I stopped and walked to ensure my knee felt okay and wore a tight knee brace.
- When the pain did not return, I decided to run 7 miles the next day.
- My knee felt the same (little to no discomfort), so I ran 9 miles.
- After 3 days of little to no pain, I resumed training at 75 percent volume.
- The following week, I ran at 90 percent volume.
- The third week, I returned to my normal volume before increasing.
In most cases, here is how to return to running after time off:
- 0-5 days off running: Easy running at 100 percent volume equal to the number of days off with strides
- 6 days off: 3 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 3 days easy running at 75 percent volume with strides
- 28 days off: 14 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 14 days easy running at 75 percent volume
- 29+ days off: 9 days easy running at 33 percent volume; 10 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 10 days at 75 percent volume with strides
- 8 weeks off running: 18 days easy running at 33 percent volume; 19 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 19 days at 75 percent volume with strides
- 8+ weeks off running: 3 weeks each at 33 percent, 50 percent, 70 percent, 85 percent, 100 percent with strides.
- 72 days off running:A runner is almost completely detrained
Do’s and Don’t’s of Running with Knee Bursitis
- DO rest until you have little to no pain in your knee for at least 3 days.
- DO try a 30-minute walk before trying a short run the next day.
- DO ice and heat, use an anti-inflammatory cream, and take an NSAID 3-4 times a day or as directed.
- DO foam roll and lightly stretch your quad
- DO gradually return to running and cross-train during your break
- DO wear a knee strap at all times except during sleeping
- DON’T try running when your knee hurts or run through pain
- DON’T return to your normal training load and run hills or turns
- DON’T wear unsupportive shoes throughout the day
- DON’T ignore the pain and avoid a doctor if it persists for more than two weeks.
I hope this advice helps you return to running safely after having knee bursitis.
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