Which physical findings are characteristic of pes anserine bursitis?

Updated: May 08, 2018
  • Author: P Mark Glencross, MD, MPH, FACOEM, FAAPMR; Chief Editor: Milton J Klein, DO, MBA  more...
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The hallmark physical finding in pes anserine bursitis is pain over the proximal medial tibia at the insertion of the conjoined tendons of the pes anserinus, approximately 5-7 cm below the anteromedial joint margin of the knee. At its worst, pes anserine bursal pain is only mild to moderate. Intense pain could suggest a proximal tibial stress fracture.

The pes anserine bursa can be palpated at a point slightly distal to the tibial tubercle and about 3-4 cm medial to it (about 2 fingerbreadths). However, the bursa may not be palpable unless effusion and thickening are present. Palpable crepitus consistent with bursitis occasionally is noted. Pain in this area indicates an underlying inflammation of the pes anserine bursa or a bursitis.

Palpation of this area of the knee is important in a patient who complains of medial knee pain because the examiner needs to determine whether the pain is from joint-line pathology or pes anserine bursal pathology (or both). The 2 may coexist, because pes anserine bursitis can accompany primary knee pathology. Some researchers report pain along the medial joint line, mimicking a meniscal tear. As many as 30% of asymptomatic people may report tenderness when the area of the pes anserine bursa is pressed, so it is important to palpate the contralateral normal knee to verify that the pain on the affected side is more or reproduces their symptoms.

Concurrently with the physical examination, the hamstring-popliteal angle should be assessed to determine the patient’s underlying amount of hamstring tightness. This assessment is made by having the patient’s hip flex to 90° and then passively extending the leg. The angle formed between a perpendicular line to the femoral shaft and the tibial shaft is the hamstring-popliteal angle.

With the sports-related variant or pes anserine bursitis, symptoms may be reproduced by means of resisted internal rotation and resisted flexion of the knee. With the chronic variant in older adults, flexion or extension of the knee usually does not elicit pain. Valgus stress may reproduce the symptoms in athletic individuals, making it hard to distinguish pes anserine bursitis from MCL injuries using this technique alone. Typically, painful tenderness in association with MCL injuries is superior and posterior to the pes anserine bursa.

Noticeable bursal swelling is less frequent among elderly patients with concurrent arthritis. Bursitis is found more frequently on the right side than on the left, and approximately one third of patients have bilateral involvement. If swelling can be traced more proximally along the pes anserine tendons, a formal tendinitis may be present, and a snapping of the pes anserine tendons can occur. Two case reports of large cystic swellings of the bursa that resolved with conservative management have been documented.

An exostosis of the tibia has been described in athletes and may contribute to chronic symptoms.

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