For most athletes, waking up to knee pain is a nightmare. After all, we use our knees in pretty much all movement, so a sidelining knee injury can feel devastating if you're working toward a fitness or weight-loss goal.
If you want to show your knee joints a little extra love, knee sleeves can be a way to help prevent injury. While they won't replace strength training and proper physical therapy when it comes to injury rehab, these tools can give your knees an extra supportive boost.
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The Best Knee Sleeves
- Best for Overall Compression: Mava Sports Knee Compression Sleeve ($12.99, Amazon)
- Best for Sports Performance: POWERLIX Knee Compression Sleeve ($18.97, Amazon)
- Best for Weight Lifting: Nordic Lifting Knee Sleeves ($39.99, Amazon)
- Best for Running: UFlex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve ($15.99, Amazon)
- Best for Pain Relief: NEENCA Professional Knee Brace Compression Sleeve ($14.99, Amazon)
Benefits of Using Knee Sleeves
As the name implies, knee sleeves are compressive sleeves worn around the knees for added joint support when you're experiencing pain or a minor injury, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Arguably one of the most important components of wearing a sleeve is the increase in proprioception, which is your brain's ability to sense the position of your knee joint in space," says Sam Becourtney, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
When people experience knee pain and feel like the joint is unstable, a knee sleeve provides a sense of security. In turn, this may help prevent further injury to the knee.
In some cases, knee sleeves can also be worn to improve sports or training performance. Compression sleeves boost blood flow to the muscles surrounding the knee, Becourtney says. As a result, oxygen in the area increases, allowing you to perform at a high level without fatiguing as quickly.
"When people fatigue, this is typically when injuries occur," he says. Because knee sleeves can keep your muscles from getting too tired too soon, they may help you steer clear of injury during a long game or training session.
This is also why you might see powerlifters at the gym squatting with knee pads; the sleeves help keep their knees from giving out at the bottom of their heavy squat.
While many companies promote their knee sleeves as treatment options, there's no firm evidence that the products actually help in that arena, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. "I think it is important to emphasize that a knee sleeve will not fix any underlying injury or pathology," Becourtney says.
Instead, think of knee sleeves as a "security blanket" he says. "If someone is experiencing mild or moderate pain and feels that their knee is somewhat unsupported, this might be a good time to try using a knee sleeve in order to get through a game or practice. Knee sleeves can certainly be a great tool to help modulate pain in the interim and/or return to sport after rehabbing from an injury."
But if pain worsens over time, he recommends taking a trip to the physical therapist or doctor.
Knee sleeves can provide extra support to the joint and give you a sense of security if your knees feel unstable, potentially helping to prevent further injury. They can also boost blood flow to the area, improving performance. But they won't heal an existing injury: Consult a medical professional before turning to a knee sleeve for treatment, especially if your knee pain worsens over time.
How to Choose a Knee Sleeve
If you're going to try a knee sleeve, you'll need to consider a few factors to help you find the best one, including padding, compression, material and where your knee hurts. Read reviews or shop in a sporting goods store where you can touch and feel the sleeves before you buy.
Knee sleeves come in different levels of padding. The best padding for you depends on how much support you need and the sport or activity you plan to do, Becourtney says. The more padding, the more support provided, but also the more your movement will be limited.
For activities that require a lot of movement, look for a flexible knee sleeve. To alleviate pain, pick a sleeve with more structure and support, Becourtney says.
A sleeve with more compression can help limit swelling due to an existing knee injury. But too much compression may worsen any tenderness or sensitivity, Becourtney says.
Getting sweaty? Go with a breathable or wicking knee sleeve. If you have sensitive skin that might react to rougher fabrics, look for an option that feels soft and more flexible to the touch, Becourtney says.
The area where you're experiencing pain may change the type of sleeve you choose. Some knee braces are designed specifically for pain on the inside of the knee, whereas others are made for more general pain or discomfort.
"This is usually dependent on where the tighter ares of the sleeve are or where there may be extra padding," Becourtney says.
The Best Knee Sleeves
1. Best for Overall Compression: Mava Sports Knee Compression Sleeve
Unlike most compression sleeves, Mava Sports' product is built with an adjustable strap, so you can tighten and loosen the sleeve as you'd like, preventing slipping as you walk or exercise.
This sleeve is on the lighter side when it comes to padding and is constructed with a breathable fabric. If you're looking for maximum stability, this isn't the sleeve for you. (Check out the NEENCA Professional Knee Brace below.)
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $12.99
2. Best for Sports Performance: POWERLIX Knee Compression Sleeve
POWERLIX's knee sleeve has more than 5,600 five-star reviews on Amazon and is a great overall sports performance sleeve. Offering even compression across the entire sleeve, there's no one spot that's more or less padded than another.
While this sleeve will provide support and compression, it's a more flexible option, as it's made specifically for activity. Athletes with higher levels of pain may want to opt for a more stable option.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $18.97
3. Best for Weight Lifting: Nordic Lifting Knee Sleeves
Nordic Lifting's knee sleeves are made specifically for weight lifting and powerlifting, making these a safe choice for your next heavy squat session.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $39.99
4. Best for Running: UFlex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve
UFlex Athletics' knee compression sleeves are designed with a breathable, flexible fabric, making them perfect for runners. They're also made with a silicone grip gel, which will prevent the sleeve from slipping during your workouts. With moderate support, this sleeve is best for runners with minor injuries.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.99
5. Best for Pain Relief: NEENCA Professional Knee Brace Compression Sleeve
NEENCA's knee sleeve is a more padded option, making it best for pain relief and joint support. This hybrid brace and compression sleeve is made with a flexible fabric but has built-in spring stabilizers and a silicone knee pad, providing more support than a standard sleeve.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $14.99
While this knee brace may help you manage your pain, it's always best to consult a medical professional before exercising with knee pain, especially if your pain worsens over time.