Running comes with its own set of knee injuries, including the notorious runner’s knee or PFPS, meniscus tears, and tendonitis. And, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, many runners wear sleeves over their joints. This raises the question: Are knee sleeves good for running? (1)
To cut straight to the point, yes, knee sleeves are helpful for runners since they can help with injury rehabilitation, prevention, pain relief, and inflammatory control.
But, while useful, the truth is that not everyone needs to wear knee sleeves. So, today, I’ll talk about whether or not you should be using one and discuss a few other topics. If you want to jump sections, simply click on the bullets below:
- Should I wear knee sleeves when I run?
- How sleeves help runners prevent and recover from knee injuries
- Common running injuries and how knee supports can help
Should I wear knee sleeves for running?
If you’re not feeling any type of symptoms like pain, instability, and inflammation, then you don’t need to run with knee sleeves on.
However, many runners do so even without these symptoms to minimize their risk of a knee injury. While the research isn’t clear on whether or not it works, it theoretically should. And, even if it didn’t, doing so wouldn’t harm you or limit your performance anyway. (2, 3)
Now, if you do have one or all of those symptoms, then yes, you can benefit from a pair of knee sleeves and other types of support. They are, after all, designed to help you manage injuries with those exact symptoms.
This brings us to the next part of our discussion.
How knee sleeves help runners prevent and recover from injury
Different designs come with different unique features but, at its core, a knee compression sleeve can:
- Prevent injuries
- Enhance the recovery process
- Increase blood circulation
- Bolster your proprioception
- Regulate your knee’s temperature
Let’s talk about each one.
A knee sleeve is made from compressible fabric that pushes against your joint and provides added support while you are running.
On that note, different materials offer varying levels of compression, comfort, and support. More often than not, the most common fabric you’ll find is neoprene followed shortly (in no particular order) by nylon, polyester, lycra/spandex, and even bamboo fibers.
The more supportive your knee compression sleeve, the better it should be for preventing knee ailments.
The compression and support from a good-fitting knee sleeve also help with recovery.
For one, compression helps regulate inflammation. Paired with appropriate levels of support, it could also help minimize knee pain. Not to mention the boost in blood flow (which will be discussed shortly).
From a PT’s standpoint, all these benefits will help you perform exercises during your physical therapy sessions and at home. Ultimately, this makes getting back to full health much easier.
All runners exert a lot of energy and effort both during training and competition. This, in turn, makes runners prone to cramps, spasms, strains, and fatigue. This is true across all types of runners, including marathoners, sprinters, leisure runners, and everything in between.
That being said, a proper knee compression sleeve can optimize circulation. This, in turn, boosts the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your knees and all the muscles and soft tissue surrounding your joint.
Ultimately, this benefit could fuel your performance and delay muscle fatigue.
Proprioception is how you can tell where your limbs are even if you don’t see them. For example, it’s how you know one foot is in front of the other when you walk even when you don’t look down.
Now, it has been proven in research that proprioception is reduced in cases of injury. This, in turn, increases the risk of re-injury. In fact, you may have noticed how some of your running buddies tend to get injured more than others – and lack of proprioception may just be a factor. (4)
Now, a knee compression sleeve doesn’t actually replace your lost proprioceptive neurons but it does provide external sensory stimuli. Many times, just that feeling of having some type of fabric touching your knee is enough to magnify your body’s proprioception.
Temperature regulation (warmth)
Running already raises your temperature which, ultimately, also boosts blood flow, especially to your legs.
However, as I’m sure you can relate to, there will be times you have to slow down or stop so you can catch your breath. In those cases, you’ll want to keep your muscles warm so they remain limber – and that’s exactly what a knee compression sleeve does.
Depending on design and material, though, different knee compression sleeves can retain varying levels of warmth. So, it’s always a good idea to read about other people’s experiences with a particular sleeve.
Or, to make things easier, you could read our reviews of the best knee braces and sleeves for running.
Common running injuries that knee supports can help with
Now that you know the essential benefits of knee sleeves, let’s talk about some of the sport’s most common exercises and how sleeves and other types of knee supports can help. Let’s start with the most notorious: runner’s knee.
Otherwise known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (or simply PFPS), this condition is one of, if not the most common injuries in runners. Hence, why it’s called runner’s knee.
It’s a condition characterized by pain in front of your knee that, in most cases, is caused by overuse. New runners as well as those who suddenly increased the intensity of their training are at particularly higher risk.
The best treatment here is rest and gradual progression moving forward. However, knee compression sleeves can help with recovery through optimized blood flow, regulated inflammation, and knee pain relief.
Also known as jumper’s knee, patellar tendinitis is the inflammation of your patellar tendon. And, like PFPS, it’s another running injury that largely happens because of overuse. One crucial difference, though, is that the pain here will be isolated right under your knee cap.
Knee straps can help by providing targeted pressure relief on your patellar tendon, thus allowing you to run with less pain.
Recommended: The best knee straps for pain relief
Sprains and strains
Sprains are injuries to your ligaments whereas strains are injuries to your tendons. They both cause instability, pain, and swelling.
A good knee sleeve can help you manage moderate to mild knee pain as well as help your body control the inflammation.
However, if your sprain or strain comes with instability, hinged knee braces are more likely to offer better help. The metal hinges on both sides of these knee braces provide front-to-back and side-to-side support so your knees don’t move excessively while it’s healing.
Conclusion – Knee Sleeves Help In Running
Many people mistake knee sleeves for this revolutionary tool that will enhance your running performance overnight. This is expecting a little too much.
However, knee sleeves can make a critical difference in your ability to run regularly and for long distances.
By minimizing fatigue in your muscles, preventing injuries from developing, and boosting blood circulation, knee sleeves can alleviate your knee pain, regulate inflammation, and who knows? Maybe supercharge your athletic performance, too.
- Taunton, J. E. “A Retrospective Case-control Analysis of 2002 Running Injuries.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 36, no. 2, BMJ, Apr. 2002, pp. 95–101. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.36.2.95.
- Mortaza, Niyousha et al. “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 vol. 7,11 (2012): e50110. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050110
- Pietrosimone, Brian G et al. “A systematic review of prophylactic braces in the prevention of knee ligament injuries in collegiate football players.” Journal of athletic training vol. 43,4 (2008): 409-15. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-43.4.409
- Suner Keklik, Sinem et al. “Evaluation of proprioception in patients who underwent ACL reconstruction: measurement in functional position.” Turkish journal of medical sciences vol. 51,4 2036-2042. 30 Aug. 2021, doi:10.3906/sag-2004-110
- Smith, Benjamin E et al. “Incidence and prevalence of patellofemoral pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” PloS one vol. 13,1 e0190892. 11 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0190892