The number of people with knee pain has increased substantially in the last 20 years.(1)
It affects not only athletes, but the general population as well regardless of exercise level, age, and even body weight.
The good news is that knee sleeves are an easy, safe, and cheap solution to this common problem.
Contrary to popular belief, they’re not only meant for athletes, powerlifters, or fitness enthusiasts. Even people suffering from knee osteoarthritis can enjoy their benefits.
5 advantages of knee sleeves that are backed by science:
1. Reduce pain and enhance recovery
Knee sleeves are usually made of neoprene, a compression material that helps increase blood flow to the area.
This can help you decrease the pain during and after the workout, keeping the warmth on your joint.
Also, the compression helps your body get rid of some of the inflammation post-workout, which also enhances your recovery.
For example, a knee sleeve can help you if you have some mild knee pain and/or swelling after your workout.
Just elevate the leg while wearing the sleeve to reduce the swelling. You might want to skip the ice and anti-inflammatories, though, as some studies suggest that they may impair long-term healing.
Related: Best Knee Sleeves for Recovery
2. Provide extra support for your knee joint
The compression also supports your knee joint and patella, promoting stability. This is important because it can reduce your risk of injury.
Studies suggest this can help in various scenarios:
- While attempting a new personal record at the gym.(2)
- If you feel your knees fatigued during or after a workout.(3)
- If you have knee osteoarthritis.(4)
A study concluded that:
(the improvement on stability from the knee sleeves) “…might prevent knee OA patients from falling down and increase their sense of security during physical activities” – Chuang et al, 2007
But, if you already have an injury or an unstable knee, it’s best to check in with your physician first.
Knee sleeves might not be enough for your needs. You might need knee braces instead, as they provide more stability than a sleeve.
3. Reduce your risk of injury
Knee sleeves increase blood flow in the knee joint and keep them warm, which can be beneficial not only for lifting.
The warmth of a knee sleeve can prevent injuries if, for example:
- You workout in a cool climate.
- You have long rest periods between your sets.
- You have a hard time warming up your knees.
A knee sleeve is just a tool. It won’t replace a good training regime, quality sleep, and proper nutrition.
4. Aid your technique and improve your training
Knee sleeves give some extra support to the knee joint, which can help you improve your fitness performance and technique.
However, they aren’t a replacement for proper form. They’re an aid when you’re feeling tired or need extra support to hit a new personal record.
Work on your knee joint stability without the compression and support of the sleeve first before wearing it.
5. Help you recover after an injury
The extra support will help you explore exercises and movements in a safe environment, so you can get back on track faster.
Knee sleeves are also a good asset if the knee symptoms are interfering in your training or your daily life.
In this case, the type of knee sleeve you choose will depend on the injury you want to recover from.
For example, some knee sleeves have kneecap holes that can help recover from patellar tendinitis. Others have sidebars that can protect the ligaments while healing from a strain.
The sleeve in itself will give temporary relief. It’s best to go to a healthcare provider to pinpoint the cause of the knee pain and treat it.
Q: Do knee sleeves hinder my performance?
No, knee sleeves shouldn’t hinder your performance.
Studies show that neoprene knee sleeves don’t affect performance. (2) Rather, they are designed to support you while allowing normal range of knee mobility.
However, some people don’t feel much benefit from them. So, this comes down to the individual.
Be clear on what advantage you want from wearing the knee sleeves and make sure you actually need them before buying a pair.
Q: Do I need a knee sleeve?
You might need one if:
- You work out in a cold climate or rest a lot between sets.
- You have knee osteoarthritis and want some support.
- Your lifting technique is great and you want to hit new personal records.
- You’re overcoming a knee injury under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
- To manage the pain and swelling after your workout.
Wait before buying one if:
- You’re fairly new to training. Work on your technique and get your knees stronger first.
- You want to wear one just for the sake of it. This can impair the function of your knees and create deficits in strength and stability.
- You’re a seasoned athlete and only want it for lifting weight or squatting big weights. Try knee wraps instead.
Check with your physical therapist or physician before buying if:
- You have a history of knee injuries or instability. You may need knee braces instead.
- Your pain worsens during the workout or afterward.
- You have persistent swelling.
- You’re having long-term knee problems.
Q: Is it safe to wear a knee sleeve for a long time?
Yes! If your knee sleeve fits you properly, there’s no problem. Remove it before going to sleep and you’re good to go.
However, if you have a history of cardiovascular issues, please consult with your physician before wearing a sleeve for long periods.
Q: Can knee sleeves cause blood clots?
Not by themselves.
Blood clots can be caused by genetics, age, and other lifestyle factors.
Under certain circumstances, wearing a knee sleeve could constrict some of the deep veins in your knee, causing deep vein thrombosis.
This could happen if these 3 factors are involved at the same time:
- The sleeve is way too tight and uncomfortable.
- But still, you wear it for hours.
- While having your knee bent most of the time.
This is an unlikely scenario that can be easily prevented if you wear the proper size of the knee sleeve and remove it if you feel uncomfortable.
Remove it immediately and check with your physician if you feel any of the following:
- Your feet/calves tingling, numbing, etc.
- Your feet/calves are colder or warmer than usual.
- Impaired sensation below the knee sleeve.
- Pain on your feet/calves that increases while wearing the sleeve.
Benefits of knee sleeves: Conclusion
Wearing knee sleeves can:
- Reduce pain and swelling.
- Keep the warmth of the workout to prevent injuries.
- Help stabilize and protect the kneecap and the overall knee joint.
- Give you an advantage during your workouts, not only for squats but for any related lifts.
They’re not only for weightlifting or sports.
People without an exercise background can enjoy their benefits as well, like someone suffering from osteoarthritis.
They’re mostly safe but be clear on why you want to wear them. Don’t wear knee sleeves for the sake of it as it can impair your knee strength and stability.
If you’re having recurrent knee pain, pay your physical therapist a visit to check what’s going on!
- Nguyen, U. S., Zhang, Y., Zhu, Y., Niu, J., Zhang, B., & Felson, D. T. (2011). Increasing prevalence of knee pain and symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: survey and cohort data. Annals of internal medicine, 155(11), 725–732. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-155-11-201112060-00004
- Mortaza, N., Ebrahimi, I., Jamshidi, A. A., Abdollah, V., Kamali, M., Abas, W. A., & Osman, N. A. (2012). The effects of a prophylactic knee brace and two neoprene knee sleeves on the performance of healthy athletes: a crossover randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 7(11), e50110. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050110
- Tiggelen, D. V., Coorevits, P., & Witvrouw, E. (2008). The effects of a neoprene knee sleeve on subjects with a poor versus good joint position sense subjected to an isokinetic fatigue protocol. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 18(3), 259–265. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSM.0b013e31816d78c1
- Chuang, S. H., Huang, M. H., Chen, T. W., Weng, M. C., Liu, C. W., & Chen, C. H. (2007). Effect of knee sleeve on static and dynamic balance in patients with knee osteoarthritis. The Kaohsiung journal of medical sciences, 23(8), 405–411. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0257-5655(07)70004-4