If you have knee pain at the front of the joint, a knee strap or sleeve can help. But, the question is: patella band vs knee sleeve, which of these will be best for you?
Well, both can actually help you relieve pain. But, they do so in different ways.
For example, straps are better for managing pain coming from the knee cap tendon. In comparison, sleeves can help the knee as a whole, including the tendon.
That said, one isn’t necessarily superior to the other. But, their differences do make them better for certain conditions.
Differences between a patellar tendon strap and a knee sleeve
First, both of them are different types of braces.
But, apart from design, here are 3 more distinctions between a patellar tendon strap and a sleeve:
- A sleeve provides more support than a knee strap.
- A knee strap puts pressure on the kneecap tendon. A sleeve works by putting compression around the whole joint.
- They have different ways of relieving pain. Knee straps provide external, focused pressure on the area. Sleeves increase the blood flow in the joint and reduce swelling.
These differences also determine other related things, including:
- What they’re best for, and
- Where they fall short
Here’s how you know which one’s better for you:
Knee straps: Do you need one?
A knee strap is a type of knee brace that wraps around your knee joint. It’s also known as a “patellar strap” and is usually worn below the kneecap.
Because they’re small, knee straps can fit under clothing.
How do knee straps work?
Patellar straps offer support to the patellar tendon. This tendon is a thick, horizontal band below the kneecap.
The strap’s external pressure provides several benefits:
For starters, it can reduce stress on the tendon.
This may cut pain in the kneecaparea. It may also help prevent a running injury. (1)
Another theory is that patellar straps have a proprioceptive effect.
Proprioception is a sort of sixth sense we have. It tells us where our joints are at any given time.
For example, you can probably climb stairs without thinking. You don’t stop at each step to check if your leg is moving up and towards the stair, right? You just do it.
This is thanks to proprioception and patellar bands help enhance this.
This is useful in runners and running athletes in general, as it can prevent patella injuries. (1)
There are also dual patellar bands.
One strap goes below the kneecap, the other above it. The top strap provides the same pressure and benefits on the tendon above the patella.
Are knee straps right for me?
People with pain at the front of the knee may feel relief wearing a patella band. The most common causes of this type of pain include:
- Patellar tendonitis.
- Runner’s knee.
- Jumper’s knee.
- Osgood-Schlatter disease.
A strap may not be enough if you have some instability, pain, and/or swelling. In these cases, wearing a sleeve will be a better option.
Related: The best knee straps for patellar knee pain
Knee sleeves: Do you need one?
Knee sleeves are stretchy garments usually made of neoprene. They’re popular among athletes, the elderly, and people with mild knee pain.
Sleeves are typically braces with closed patellas. But, there’s a wide variety of sleeves in today’s market. Different designs target different needs and symptoms (more on the topic further down).
Related: The top knee sleeves for the elderly (with reviews)
How do knee sleeves work?
Their primary purpose is to compress the knee joint. This, in turn, provides several other benefits.
For one, the compression from neoprene increases the local blood flow. This, then, provides pain relief to an achy knee while also enhancing the healing process.
A sleeve also helps reduce swelling and provides a better sense of knee stability. It does all this without compromising knee movement. (2)
Knee sleeves can also provide more benefits depending on their design:
Common types of knee sleeves
Open patella design
These sleeves have a hole at their front for the knee cap.
One group this can be beneficial for is people with runner’s knee. This is because the opening helps reduce pressure and pain at the front of the knee while on the move.
Sleeves with an open patella design also help keep your patella in proper alignment. This can be great for people with patella tracking issues.
These are sleeves with hinges at the side. The added hinges are either removable or sewed permanently, depending on the manufacturer.
In any case, they only add minimal stability to your joint. But, this should still be enough to help protect your ligaments while they heal from, minor sprains.
Is a knee sleeve right for me?
It can be the right knee brace for you if you want to (2):
- Reduce mild or moderate knee pain.
- Recover from a mild knee injury.
- Reduce the swelling and enhance recovery after working out.
- Feel more knee stability after a mild sprain.
- Manage the symptoms of mild arthritis in the knee.
- Prevent injuries on the knee during workouts.
But, a sleeve won’t be enough if you have moderate or severe knee symptoms. You might need another type of knee brace.
Other types of knee braces
Hinged knee braces
A hinged knee brace has metal or plastic hinges on one or both sides of the knee.
What sets it apart from hinged knee sleeves, though, is that the hinges on braces are much sturdier. And, thus, are better at adding stability.
Braces generally also have straps to help keep them in place.
The above reasons are why the right knee brace is better for people that (3):
- Had a moderate or severe knee injury, like a medial collateral ligament sprain.
- Had knee surgery. Some hinged braces can restrict the range of motion post-surgery.
- Need more support, like people with persistent knee instability.
- Want to prevent injury on the knee, like contact sports athletes. These are known as prophylactic knee braces.
A wraparound brace, well, wraps around the knee. It’s generally thicker than a sleeve. Thus, providing better support.
They’re more adjustable than a sleeve as well. Their straps and velcro make it easier to fit the brace around your joint.
They often have a patellar hole to keep the kneecap in place.
But, they can be uncomfortable to run or exercise with.
Traditional athletic tape
This is a rigid tape popular among athletes. It can provide extra stability for a short period. For example, during a game or for first aid after a sprained ankle.
It’s usually wrapped around the affected joint. People with sensitive skin may need a pre-wrap to avoid irritation.
Ask a professional to apply the tape to guarantee its effectiveness.
When to talk to your doctor if you have knee pain?
Knee pain is very common and it resolves on its own most of the time. But, some cases may need medical attention to avoid further injury.
So, if you have any of the following, please make an appointment with your doctor:
- It’s hard for you to walk normally.
- You can’t put weight on your leg.
- The pain doesn’t let you sleep.
- The pain is unbearable.
- There’s locking, popping, and/or catching on the joint.
- You have joint noises that weren’t there before.
- The pain hasn’t resolved after 6 weeks.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may request an MRI. This will help them make an accurate diagnosis to plan the best treatment for you.
However, some symptoms also precede medical emergencies.
If you have any of these, please go to the ER immediately:
- You have limited movement on your knee joint.
- Your pain is worsening after 48 hours post-injury.
- You have impaired sensation on your feet and/or below the knee.
- There’s any sign of infection: fever, redness, and/or warmth in the injured area.
- There’s swelling and/or redness on the back of your knee.
Do patella knee bands work?
Yes, patella knee bands work. This is especially true for people with knee pain due to patellar tendon issues. Like runner’s knee, jumper’s knee, or Osgood-Schlatter disease, for example.
They won’t work for people with instability, swelling, or pain from other causes.
Do I need a patella strap?
You may need a strap if your knee pain involves your patellar tendon. If you’re not sure, it’s best to get a physical therapy evaluation.
Also, wearing a strap may be helpful for your recovery from injury.
What is the difference between knee braces and sleeves?
A knee sleeve is a type of knee brace. Knee braces are garments that can relieve pain in various circumstances and in different ways.
A sleeve helps the knee through compression. This can reduce pain and swelling in some people, as well as provide some stability.
Conclusion: Knee brace vs knee strap
Braces and straps are both helpful in that they provide support, reduce swelling, and can help you prevent an injury. But, they do all these very differently. Hence, why braces and straps are also better for certain conditions.
In any case, the brace itself won’t heal an injury. Yes, it can help enhance your recovery, but it doesn’t have magical properties.
It won’t replace proper training techniques and strength training either. It’s supposed to be an addition to the skills you already have.
So, if you’re planning on wearing either of these two knee supports, make sure you know what they’re for and how they help. If you’re still not sure, we highly recommend seeing your doctor or physical therapist.
- De Vries, A et al. “Effect of patellar strap and sports tape on pain in patellar tendinopathy: A randomized controlled trial.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports vol. 26,10 (2016): 1217-24. doi:10.1111/sms.12556 (https://sci-hub.se/10.1111/sms.12556)
- Chuang, Shih-Hung et al. “Effect of knee sleeve on static and dynamic balance in patients with knee osteoarthritis.” The Kaohsiung journal of medical sciences vol. 23,8 (2007): 405-11. doi:10.1016/S0257-5655(07)70004-4
- Paluska, S A, and D B McKeag. “Knee braces: current evidence and clinical recommendations for their use.” American family physician vol. 61,2 (2000): 411-8, 423-4