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If you have knee pain, you, like many others, may be looking for relief and a way to improve mobility. One possible method for both supporting the kneecap during activity and reducing pain is a knee compression sleeve, a stretchy band of fabric worn over the knee.
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Knee sleeves’ low profile also makes them easier to wear than traditional knee braces, according to Dr. Greg Minnis, a physical therapist at Excel Physical Therapy in New Jersey.
“Knee sleeves are ideal for someone who has a minor knee injury or mild pain with activity and is looking for increased support of the joint without the bulkiness and limited mobility found with traditional knee braces,” he says.
There are two types of knee sleeves:
- Open compression sleeves. These have a hole in the center that the patella, or kneecap, fits into.
- Closed compression sleeves. These have no hole. Some have a pad stitched in that surrounds the patella and limits unwanted movement.
Knee sleeves designed to provide more compression and support during activities like squatting or lunging are made with thicker material. Neoprene, polyester, cotton, nylon, and spandex are materials commonly used in knee sleeves for their elastic and moisture-wicking properties.
You can use a knee sleeve when compression of your knee joint is necessary to improve stability and reduce pain with activity, Minnis says.
One thing to keep in mind: “They are not good at providing a high level of stability or restricting mobility, which may be necessary with a more serious injury,” he says.
Knee sleeves provide only minor support, Minnis says, compared with knee braces, which offer a wider range of support. A rigid, hinged brace provides the highest level of support and can be used after surgery or after a more serious knee injury.
You should use a knee sleeve only in an attempt to reduce mild or moderate pain and improve stability during activity.
We chose the following knee sleeves based on the quality of the materials and their performance features.
We made sure to select a range of styles, sizes, fabrics, and price points. We also added knee sleeves with specific features that may be attractive to certain people, such as moisture-wicking and odor-reducing properties.
We’ve reflected a range of price points using the following guide:
- $ = under $15
- $$ = $15–$30
- $$$ = over $30
Best overall knee brace
With 4.5 stars out of almost 24,000 reviews on Amazon, the UFlex Athletics knee sleeve is a popular choice.
The knit design allows for four-way stretch, which makes this sleeve more comfortable during workouts. It’s made of a blend of spandex, nylon, and latex, which allows for breathability — especially crucial during workouts. It also has a silicone strip woven in to prevent slippage.
This unisex sleeve comes in sizes small through extra-large.
Most affordable knee sleeve
Made of materials that can help wick away sweat (65 percent nylon, 20 percent latex, and 15 percent spandex), this sleeve features a 3-D knitting technology that provides moderate pressure. The thick fabric provides extra reinforcement, and the no-slip silicone “waves” help keep the sleeve in place.
This sleeve is unisex and comes in sizes small through extra-large.
Knee sleeve with built-in patellar pad
This knee sleeve comes with a built-in patellar pad, which most don’t have. The padding surrounds the kneecap, helping to keep the kneecap in place and distribute the pressure evenly throughout — especially helpful if you’re doing a sporty activity for a long period. The breathable materials are designed to be lightweight and comfortable to wear.
At $125, it’s the most expensive knee sleeve on the list. However, if you’re focused on working out for longer periods, this one might be worth the money for you.
Best sleeve for light to moderate support
This sleeve is designed for a wide range of physical activities, from running to weightlifting. Though it comes with a reinforced patella stabilizer to hold the kneecap in place, it also provides plenty of flexibility for mobility. Overall, it offers a more moderate level of support ideal for those who want to keep moving, whether that’s on the trail or in the gym.
It comes in unisex sizes from small through extra-large. The fabric is breathable and washable but must be air-dried.
Best sleeve for heavy-duty support
This knee sleeve is for those who want extra support during their activities. It comes with a contoured patella gel pad, which surrounds the kneecap, and double-sided metal spring stabilizers to offer a tighter fit around the knee. Its moisture-wicking nonslip fabric is designed to help keep it in place comfortably.
Because of the added support, this sleeve could work well for high intensity activities, recovery from minor injuries, or support for chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis. The unisex sizes range from small to xxx-large.
According to Minnis, the life of a knee sleeve will depend on how much use it gets. With regular use, a compression sleeve may last 6 months to a year, he says. “The material is made to stretch slightly, so after time, the elastic properties may wear out or the stitching may begin to come apart.”
Most knee sleeves are washable, which Minnis says is important because they are worn mostly during exercise and activity.
Knee sleeves are generally safe. The most common issue Minnis sees in his practice is skin irritation due to poor fit.
“You want to make sure that the sleeve is tight but not so tight that it drastically limits movement or causes discomfort,” he says. “On the flip side, you don’t want the brace to be so loose that it slides around when you’re moving.”
Minnis’ tip for purchasing online is to buy two sizes and keep whichever one feels more comfortable while you’re walking or performing the activity you intend to use the sleeve for.
A knee brace is a more supportive alternative to a knee sleeve. Taping, which involves wrapping the knee in special tape to limit unwanted movement and support the joint, is another alternative, Minnis says.
However, keep in mind that tape has to be applied each time before the activity, while “a sleeve simply needs to be pulled up and you’re ready to go,” he says.
If you have minor knee issues and are looking to reduce your knee pain and support your mobility, a knee sleeve could be a great option. The guide above can help you find one with the right level of support for your particular knee issue and activity level.