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If you have knee pain, you, like many others, may be looking for relief and a way to improve your mobility. One possible method for both supporting the kneecap during activity and reducing pain is a knee compression sleeve, which is a stretchy band of fabric worn over the knee.

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.

When selecting the top knee sleeves available, we considered a range of priorities, including:

  • Functionality: Style over substance isn’t usually what you want when it comes to supportive workout accessories. We made sure our knee sleeve selections checked all the boxes for support, flexibility, and durability.
  • Sustainability: Making a short-term investment is fine in some cases, but you want to make sure your workout gear will last through multiple sessions over time. Our picks are proven to hold up to a range of exercise expectations.
  • Affordability: Budget is key when planning how you’re going to support your activity. If you’re looking for a quality sleeve, it helps to have choices at various price points.

Interested in more details on our selection process? Here’s how we choose products and vet brands.

Pricing guide

We’ve selected products with a wide a range of prices using the following guide:

  • $ = under $15
  • $$ = $15–$30
  • $$$ = over $30

Taking our top priorities into consideration, we compiled a list of products that could work within several different budgets and varying levels of physical intensity.

We also chose products based on the quality of the materials and their performance features. Here’s our list of the best knee compression sleeves to help get you comfortably and confidently back on your feet.

Compression sleevePriceAvailable sizesWhat it’s best forWho should use it
UFlex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve$S, M, L, XLBreathabilityPeople who want a highly secure compression sleeve
Cambivo Knee Compression Sleeve$$S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLMoisture-wickingPeople who are in larger bodies
Bauerfeind Sports Knee Support$$$XS, S, M, L, XL, XXLKeeping your kneecap in placeEndurance athletes, or anyone who works out for longer periods of time
BLITZU Flex Professional Knee Sleeve$S, M, L, XLDaily wearPeople who want a sleeve that’s good for activities other than working out
Shock Doctor Knee Compression Sleeve$$—$$$XS, S, M, L, XLTargeted patella compressionPeople in need of a moderate amount of support
NEENCA Knee Compression Sleeve$$S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXLExtra support around the kneePeople with chronic conditions

The primary feature of a knee compression sleeve, or knee sleeve for short, is its ability to stretch over the knee and provide support and protection to the joint. It’s made of stretchy material that can compress the knee, resulting in an increase in blood flow that helps reduce pain and swelling. They can also help with patella tracking disorder (when the kneecap shifts out of place) and knee effusions.

This is why knee sleeves are often used during periods of physical activity, when the knee joint is overworked and in need of extra support. This is particularly the case for those taking part in load-bearing or knee-centric activities, such as weightlifting, running, or jumping.

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 compression and support during activities like squatting and 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.

So, if you’re looking to help reduce swelling and inflammation or add a little extra stability while in motion, knee sleeves are a worthwhile option. However, if you’re recovering from a major knee surgery, injury to the knee, or experience severe arthritis, you may need a stronger, more supportive brace.

The main difference between a knee sleeve and a knee brace is in their function.

A brace is designed to heal injured ligaments by restricting movement and protecting the injured area by offering extra structural support and helping manage the stress and load applied to the knee.

A knee sleeve doesn’t limit the joint’s natural range of motion but protects the knee from damage through compression.

If you’re recently recovering from knee surgery, for example, a knee sleeve won’t limit movement enough to ensure proper healing. However, if you experience knee pain after workouts, a knee sleeve may be a good way to reduce pain and swelling and prevent future injury.

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.

Another good option for knee support is a knee strap, a patella brace (a smaller product that only wraps around the leg below your kneecap), or a pain relief patch. You can also opt for ace wraps or elastic tubular bandages. If you sleep on your side, you may want to look into a small knee support pillow to promote hip and spinal alignment. Low impact exercise also helps strengthen the muscles around your knee, providing better support.

Finally, if you’re experiencing knee pain, consider using ice for 15 minutes on and off; elevating your leg whenever possible; or speaking with your doctor or other healthcare professional if the pain begins to interfere with your daily activities or is accompanied by redness, swelling, or warmth.

Do knee compression sleeves really work?

A 2017 study found that this type of support is an effective and immediate way to reduce pain, improve knee stability, and improve confidence during activity. If you’re experiencing pain while doing exercises that involve significant motion at your knees, you may benefit from wearing a knee sleeve.

How long do knee sleeves last?

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,” Minnis says.

Most knee sleeves are washable, which Minnis says is important because they are worn mostly during exercise and activity.

Can a knee sleeve give me enough support after a serious knee injury?

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.

If you have minor knee issues and are looking to reduce some 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.

However, if you’re finding that a knee sleeve isn’t showing you the results you had hoped for, or you continue to experience significant pain, consider meeting with your doctor or a specialist to discuss your options. They can better evaluate your situation and recommend next steps, quality knee braces, or possible treatment plans and therapies.