You’ve seen athletes wear these tiny straps around their knees. Heck, I see them on basketball players and runners all the time. It’s so minimal that, to me, it’s natural to wonder: “What does a knee strap do?”
In a nutshell, knee straps are the smallest type of knee brace available. They’re also called “patellar strap” or “kneecap strap” because they wrap around below, well… your knee cap.
This provides compression on the patellar tendon. In turn, this can reduce knee pain and prevent certain injuries.
That said, let me tell you about when knee straps are helpful, when they’re not, and what your other options are.
How can a knee strap help your knee pain?
Reduced strain on the patellar tendon
The patellar tendon is the tendon below your kneecap. It’s the bridge between your patella and your shinbone.
The external pressure from the patellar strap reduces stress on this tendon.
Alternatively, you can also wear dual straps. It’s another type of knee strap with a second strap above your patella. Sequentially, this also relieves pressure on your quadriceps tendon.
This reduced stress is particularly useful when recovering from a knee injury. Your tendon won’t have to work as much, giving it time to heal while also relieving pain. (1)
Additional knee support while healing
Proprioception is a sixth sense that tells us where our joints are.
For example, while you’re reading this, you don’t need to see your knee joint to know if it’s bent or straightened. You “feel” its position – and patellar bands add to this effect.
This provides more support and stability during physical activity. And, in turn, may prevent a knee injury. (1)
Patella straps can help with certain orthopedic conditions
Also known as “patellofemoral pain syndrome.” The major symptom here is pain at the front of the knee that gets worse with movement.
There are several causes:
- Inflammation of the patellar tendon (i.e. patellar tendonitis).
- Pushing yourself too hard when your body isn’t ready for it.
- Underlying muscle weaknesses in your feet, legs, hips, and/or core.
Here, a patellar strap can reduce the pain at the front of the knee.
But, you still need to treat the underlying cause of the pain to avoid further injury.
IT band friction syndrome (ITBS)
The iliotibial band (ITB) goes from the outer side of your hip down to the lateral of your knee. When you run, the band rubs against a bony structure on your thigh bone (femur). This excessive friction can cause lateral knee pain.
Wearing a knee strap above your patella will help unload some of the pressure. Thus, relieving pain. The same logic goes for stretching your ITB.
But, stretches and knee straps will likely only provide short-term relief. Muscle imbalances are generally what cause ITBS. So, a better, more long-term course of action would be to fix those imbalances.
A physical therapist-guided exercise program helps you do this.
Related: If you need help finding a PT, let us know so we can connect you with a qualified professional in your area.
This condition causes pain and swelling below the kneecap. Specifically, in the point where the patellar tendon attaches to the shin. It’s common in teenagers involved in running or jumping sports.
Most cases tend to get better on their own, according to research. But, wearing a strap around your knee helps reduce strain on the tendon, aiding recovery.
A patellar strap may not be the best option in these circumstances
A strap won’t do much if you have knee instability.
Ligament or meniscus tears need more support than what knee straps provide.
In these cases, hinged braces or knee sleeves work better. Still, the type of knee brace you’ll need depends on the severity of your injury.
Straps won’t be enough if you’re feeling pain and/or swelling outside of athletic activities.
There are other types of knee braces that can help you with that.
Knee sleeves, in particular, offer constant compression all around your joint. This, in turn, makes it better for swelling. And, therefore, day-to-day pain relief.
Finally, a dual kneecap strap can help with patellar tracking issues.
…but only to a certain extent.
A brace or sleeve with an open-patella design will fair better.
What should I wear for knee pain: straps, knee brace, sleeves, or tape?
These are best for knee pain while doing athletic activities. Like running or playing sports. They can help you manage your achy knee, so you focus on your performance.
Other band-like devices, like traditional athletic tape, may offer similar therapeutic benefits. (1)
A knee sleeve is the best brace to reduce swelling from mild injuries, like minor sprains. They’re also helpful for people with mild arthritis since they can help manage inflammation during flare-ups. (2)
The most common material used in sleeves is neoprene. It’s a stretchy fabric that provides compression. It also allows knee movement, even full range of motion if your symptoms allow it.
A sleeve can increase the blood flowing to the joint to enhance recovery as well. That’s why they’re so popular among athletes.
A knee sleeve with a knee cap opening can be helpful for people with patellar issues. It can keep the kneecap in place and reduce the pressure in the area.
Hinged knee braces
These supportive devices are best for moderate or severe knee injuries. Like, a ligament or meniscus tear for example. Also, they can help prevent injuries, if not prevent an existing one from getting worse.
The hinges of the knee brace help keep the proper alignment of the joint. They also protect it from external forces. This reduces the strain on the ligaments to let them heal properly. (3)
Some knee braces allow limited movement on the joint. People that had knee surgery may need this since it helps protect the ligaments while they heal.
How tight should the brace be?
You should be able to fit two fingers under it. If you can’t, it’s too tight.
When should you wear knee straps?
When you have anterior knee pain that worsens with movement. Like patella-femoral pain syndrome.
But, you should also go to rehabilitation to treat the root cause of your knee pain. The goal should be to not need a strap or other support to move pain-free.
Can you wear a knee strap all day?
Yes, but it can be excessive. Wear it while you run or play sports to help with knee pain.
But, if you feel like you need to wear a strap all day to manage pain, check it with your physical therapist. They can assess what’s going on and give you a treatment plan.
Conclusion: What does a patella knee strap do?
It reduces the strain on the tendons around the kneecap. It also provides extra support and may help prevent knee injuries.
But, keep in mind that patellar straps are only supplementary. A knee brace, sleeve, or strap won’t substitute stretching, training, and rehabilitation when it comes to recovery.
- 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