A knee compression sleeve provides therapeutic compression to the knee joint. It helps to improve blood flow to the area and accelerate recovery from sore, tired or injured soft tissues.
Knee compression sleeves are however not a panacea where knee problems are concerned. Injuries like knee meniscus tears, for example, must be treated using knee braces with extra support for the knee soft tissues, such as hinged knee braces.
In what follows below, we explain in detail why and how knee compression sleeves work. We then provide summaries of the results of two important studies into their performance, recovery and therapeutic benefits.
There are many types of knee compression sleeve on the market, and we also include some general advice on the parameters to be observed in choosing the best one for treating your knee injury.
Why Do Knee Compression Sleeves Work?
As mentioned above, these sleeves provide therapeutic compression to the knee joint. This in turn helps increase blood circulation through the area. There are several resultant benefits:
First, an inflow of freshly oxygenated and nutrient rich blood helps to refresh sore muscles. This alleviates conditions like delayed onset muscle soreness(DOMS). This is a condition in which the muscles become sore and painful approximately 1-2 days after a bout of physical activity.
There is no known cure for DOMS. However, it is shortened by an enhanced supply of fresh blood to the sore muscles.
Compression also accelerates the removal of lactic acid and other elements that contribute to sore and tired muscles. This too helps these muscles return to a fresh state sooner than would otherwise be possible.
We present later the results of a study of the effectiveness of compression wear in shortening the recovery time from exercise.
Athletes who can recover more quickly from training sessions can generally train harder than otherwise would be the case. This aspect of compression wear therefore has benefits in terms of athletic performance.
The enhanced supply of fresh blood also helps tired muscles recover sooner. This can be particularly beneficial for persons required to spend long periods on their feet. Such individuals can include teachers, waitresses, air hostesses and many others.
Knee compression sleeves also aid proprioception, which is the body’s innate ability to sense the relative positions of limbs. Proprioception also enhances the body’s ability to instinctively sense when these positions pose an injury risk and to avoid such positions.
As a result, the enhanced proprioception conferred by knee compression sleeves helps to prevent injury.
Proprioception also helps the body to more efficiently and instinctively execute complex movements that demand precise co-ordination and timing of multiple limb movements.
This means that athletes who depend on the proper execution of these movements for sports performance will tend to show improved performance.
Where knee compression sleeves are concerned, they will tend to help the efficiency of actions involving the knees and surrounding areas. Actions such as kicking (vital in sports such as football and soccer) will tend to improve. Running or sprinting (vital in sports like basketball, soccer and many others) will also benefit from the enhanced proprioception.
A fifth benefit of these sleeves lies in their ability to retain bodily warmth. This helps them keep the knee ligaments and tendons supple and stretchable, even in relatively cold conditions. This ability is particularly noticeable in the case of neoprene based sleeves, due to the properties of that material.
Stretchable tissues are less at risk of overstretching or tearing as a result of the athlete’s physical exertions.
As a result, knee compression sleeves can help to reduce the risk of sprains and strains in the knees and surrounding areas. This is especially the case where neoprene based sleeves are concerned.
Studies Into The Efficacy Of Compression Sleeves
We have made claims above regarding the benefits of knee compression sleeves. It is instructive to examine the evidence supporting the ability of compression sleeves to provide these benefits.
We will briefly discuss the results of two studies
Effects Of Compression Clothing On Performance & Recovery
The study looked at the effect of compression clothing on endurance, strength & power,motor control and other parameters during or after exercise.
Both means and measures of variation of various outcome measures were recorded. They were calculated both for experimental (compression) and control trials (no compression).
The results of the study indicated that the use of compression clothing during exercise produced a small improvement in various activities. These included short duration sprints, vertical jump height, time to exhaustion and time-trial performance.
These results therefore provide support for the claims made above for the effect of compression clothing (including knee compression sleeves) on athletic performance.
The study also examined the effect of compression clothing on recovery times after exercise. Specifically, it looked at the time to recovery of maximal strength & power. Reductions in muscle swelling and perceived pain as well as blood lactate levels were also measured.
The authors of the study reported that they detected small to moderate improvements in the measures of recovery time.
Impact Of Wearing Elastic Knee Sleeves On Knee Pain & Function For Individuals With Osteoarthritis
Knee osteoarthritis is a wear and tear condition that is a common cause for much of the knee pain experienced.
This was a randomized, double blind study. Neither the participants nor the investigator measuring the results were aware of whether a knee sleeve was being worn when the measurement was taken.
The authors of this study reported statistically significant evidence that elastic knee compression sleeves reduced osteoarthritic pain. The results were highly significant (at the 0.1% level).
The authors also measured the evidence for improved knee function using 3 widely used measures of knee function. They found significant differences (improvement with a knee sleeve) for 2 of the measures. The third measure yielded a positive difference but this was determined
to not be statistically significant.
The conclusions of this study were therefore that the use of knee sleeves produced statistically significant evidence of improvement. The evidence showed improvements in both knee pain and function.
What Are Cold Compression Knee Sleeves?
Cold compression knee sleeves combine the compression therapy of compression knee sleeves with cold therapy. This means that they offer the combined benefits of both therapies.
The cold therapy from the sleeve reduces nerve activity in the injured area to provide pain relief. It also causes the blood vessels to constrict, so that swelling and inflammation are also reduced. This would be more important in the first 24-48 hours after an acute injury.
The compression therapy improves blood flow through the knee, with the benefits we have listed above. Increased blood flow would be important after the first 24-48 hours of an acute injury or after the initial pain, swelling and inflammation of the injury have subsided.
Choosing The Best Knee Compression Sleeve
In choosing the best knee compression sleeve for your needs, we would suggest attention to the following:
Take account of the healthcare advisor’s medical advice, diagnosis or treatment recommendation for your knee problem. As good as a particular sleeve might be, it will need to address your specific therapeutic needs, or it will be useless;
Try to choose a sleeve with both latex free and hypoallergenic properties to ensure long term wearing comfort. As an example, elastic knee compression sleeves would be a good choice in these circumstances. If you need to wear the sleeve round the day to get the maximum benefit, you will want it to be as easy as possible to do so;
In addition, most high quality sleeves can wick perspiration and other sources of moisture away from your skin and through the sleeve, where it can evaporate. That will leave your skin feeling cool, dry and comfortable to wear even on the hottest and most humid of days;
If you are buying your sleeve for knee stiffness reduction purposes only (or to control the risk of sprains or strains) it is probably better to choose a neoprene based sleeve. As stated above, these sleeves have a built in capability to retain the body’s natural warmth.
In choosing the best sleeve, we would also advise that you pay attention to the manufacturer sizing instructions for the product and follow them closely.
The final piece of advice we would offer would be to not assume that your compression sleeve will be a panacea for your knee injury. Instead, be careful to combine wearing your sleeve with the physical therapy and other recommendations you have been given. Physical therapy in particular is important for restoring original knee joint strength and range of motion.
Can I Sleep While Wearing A Knee Compression Sleeve?
Our suggestion would be that this is unlikely to be beneficial in most situations. The benefits of knee compression sleeves are usually most apparent when the knee is under stress, whether this is due to running, jumping or simply prolonged walking or standing.
While sleeping, your knee is unlikely to be under stress and so the compression knee sleeve will not be needed. If anything, whatever benefits its use at night may bring, they are likely to be outweighed by the disturbance they may bring to a good night’s sleep.
As with all such questions, however, you should wear your sleeve at night if counselled to do so by your heath care advisor.