As basketball is a high-intensity, fast-moving sport, players aren't strangers to leg and knee injuries. Knee sleeves help offer support to sore knees, but they don't replace stronger braces or time off the court when it comes to serious injuries. Always check with your doctor to see if a knee sleeve is the right tool to keep you out there and running up and down the court.
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Knees and Basketball
Knees take quite a beating when you play basketball. They propel you upward as you jump, and they absorb much of the shock when you land. Your knees also help stabilize your legs as you make sudden, high-speed direction changes. Put all these together and you have great potential for knee injuries. Basketball players have more knee injuries than participants in any other sport, says Dr. Ed McLaughlin of the Sports Medicine Center.
Knee Sleeve Basics
Knee sleeves are stretchy, pull-on sleeves that are often made of neoprene. Available in a variety of sizes, these should fit over your knee snugly without too much compression. Some have open kneecap areas to allow for more flexibility, while others are completely enclosed for additional support. It's not designed to replace knee pads that protect your kneecaps in case of a forward fall. Instead, they supply support for weak or sore knees. However, some knee sleeves exist that include extra padding in the front to help protect your kneecaps from injury if you fall. The pads in these sleeves are flexible to allow your knee to move naturally. The padded versions aren't designed to support weak knees like standard knee sleeves, which offer compression support.
How Sleeves Help
When you have sore muscles or just achy knees, a sleeve could be just the thing to enhance your basketball skills. It supports the area above and below the knee and helps the area retain heat, which often increases flexibility and speed. A knee sleeve also makes you more aware of your knee movement, since it's not something you wear all the time. This extra focus helps your brain with proprioception, or knowing where your knee is at all times.
Knee sleeves aren't the only option for supporting that joint. Over-the-counter braces might use hook-and-loop closures around stiff material, which sometimes include metal frames, to allow you to adjust the size and amount of support based on your needs. This type of support tends to limit joint flexibility, though. Like knee sleeves, these braces might have open or closed kneecap areas, depending on your needs. They aren't designed to help you recover from serious injuries or surgery, so talk with your doctor about your knee problems before choosing a sleeve or brace.