Our knees are prone to injury as we often push them past their functionality. Being overweight causes the knees to bear more weight than is optimal. Many sports actions take our knees past their natural range of motion. Many of us don’t pay enough attention to the muscles that act on the knee, allowing them to become weak, resulting in a knee injury. Too often, we rush into an activity or exercise without conducting a proper warm-up. Not thoroughly preparing the body for training and sport can result in sprains, strains, and tears, especially in the knee region.
So, your knee hurts. What’s your next step? First, always seek the guidance of a health care professional. They will ask you questions about when and how the pain started and examine your knee’s functionality. Then, they will make treatment recommendations. Treatment may include rest, ice, rehabilitation, and in the worst-case scenarios, surgery. They may also recommend the use of a knee sleeve or a knee brace. Braces and sleeves have different functions, so be sure to understand which one is right for you. Let’s examine the differences.
A knee sleeve typically slides over your foot, up your lower leg, and sits snugly around the knee region. There aren’t any buckles or straps to adjust, and the sleeve’s compression will reduce any swelling, which reduces pain. Knee sleeves are sleek enough to wear under most clothes and allow for a relatively full range of motion. Think of your knee sleeve as an extra layer of support, helping the muscles and other knee structures to support its movement. Your knee is not immobilized in a sleeve, nor will you feel that you can’t move naturally. Knee sleeves do not provide the same type of ligament support as a knee brace. Knee sleeves are best for minor pain or conditions like arthritis and will help to improve circulation. Quality knee sleeves are offered in a variety of sizes, so measure your leg carefully and purchase the right fit. The best compression knee sleeves are now lightweight, durable, and offer comfort while still providing multi-directional compression.
Knee braces are most often recommended following a more severe knee injury and provide far more support than a sleeve. Knee braces significantly slow and limit movement, and they often include hinges, straps and are bulkier than a sleeve. There are a variety of knee brace styles with different functions. A functional knee brace allows for support of the knee as it heals while still allowing for some activity. Some are meant to limit the knee’s movement as it recovers from a severe injury or while healing from surgery. These types of braces are not meant for long-term use, but just while the knee heals. A high-quality knee brace should offer a variety of sizes; measure your leg carefully to ensure the best fit. Thin, breathable neoprene material is preferred, as is a brace that will not slide or slip up over your knee or down your shin. An open patella (the patella is your knee cap bone) brace offers generous support while also relieving pressure on the knee.
Following your knee injury, seek medical attention, and ask questions until you are clear on your diagnosis and recovery plan. Not all knee pain or knee injuries require a brace or sleeve; recommendations for recovery will vary. If it is recommended to you that you provide some external support to your knee, clarify if you should be wearing a knee brace or a knee sleeve. Be sure to carefully measure your knee region, as the fit of your new knee brace or knee sleeve is critical. If it is too tight, you risk worsening the injury, reducing your circulation, and minimizing your movement. If it is too big, the sleeve or brace will not perform as it should, allowing for a worsening of the injury. Keep the dialogue open with your healthcare team about your experiences with your recommended knee brace or sleeve; your knee’s recovery will be unique to you, so you must provide your knee with the best possible recovery plan.