Benefits and Disadvantages of Wearing Knee SleevesWhy Should you and why shouldn't you wear Knee sleeves?
There are lots of knee sleeve benefits and disadvantages, the biggest one being that you can become too dependant on them. I see too many people use them incorrectly around the box, so it is very important to understand how and when to use them correctly.
In this article, we are going to explore both sides of the story, why use them and why not to and things to look out for if you do.
Firstly, What are Knee Sleeves?
Knee sleeves function like knee braces in that they provide support to the knees. However, they give a different level of protection. Knee braces are designed to protect already injured knees from further damage. Sleeves, on the other hand, are more to protect knees from future injuries.
Sleeves are usually made of neoprene, which is really effective in providing much-needed compression for fatigued joints and muscles. Tired joints and muscles need a lot of oxygen to recover, which means that blood flow has to be efficient in order for enough oxygen to be transported to the affected area.
Aside from that, the body produces a lot of waste (e.g. lactic acid) during exercise. This means it needs to be efficiently disposed of, which brings in another important aspect of efficient blood flow.
Compression clothing is usually very snug because the tightness limits muscle vibration and consequently reduces muscle fatigue. The tightness also constricts the blood vessels, which increases the speed of blood flow. That means faster transport of oxygen and other required nutrients to the affected area, which translates to less soreness and faster recovery. BIG plus!
6 Benefits Why you Want Wear Knee Sleeves
Like I said earlier, there are lot’s of benefits to wearing knee sleeves. So, in this section, I am going to go over the 6 main benefits and reasons why wearing knee sleeves would be a good idea.
Benefit 1 – High-Impact Sports
If you frequently participate in physical activities that have heavy impact on the knees, you can benefit a lot from knee sleeves, especially on prevention of injuries. Some examples of which sports you might see knee sleeves being used are:
- Crossfit (which is our main focus point)
- Olympic lifting
- and even some field sports like Rugby
Lifting is heavily reliant on knee movement, as well as squat jumps, air squats, double unders, snatches, clean and jerks, and even sprints. CrossFit is said to be good for all ages and sizes, but if you’re planning on starting CrossFit with…
- relatively non-existent background of exercise
- at a later age (40 years and older)
- weak knees or existing knee injury
…then you knee sleeves can be used to reduce the trauma. They’ll make you feel safer too. Beginners who are still getting the feel of proper body placement during lifting can use knee sleeves to keep the knees in place.
Benefit 2 – Injury Prevention
I have not met many athletes (crossfit or otherwise) that have not had some kind of injury/niggle that could have been prevented by simply wearing sleeves for that little bit of extra support. I want to cover a couple of the most common injuries seen in high impact sports in which the use of sleeves would reduce, help in recovering and even prevent
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) – AKA Runner’s Knee
It was mentioned earlier that knee braces provide better support for existing injuries, but recovery of some injuries can be facilitated with knee sleeves. One super common injury is the Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), also known as “runner’s knee”. It’s characterized by knee pain and swelling, resulting from an imbalance between the activity of the quadriceps and the inner leg muscles on the upper leg.
This imbalance ultimately affects the patella. The causes include wrong feet placement, lack of flexibility in the quadriceps and hamstrings, and weak hips and glutes. Strengthening the quads, hamstrings, glutes and hips is the best solution to mitigate this problem. If the pain and discomfort are bearable, you can simply rest it out, apply ice, and use knee sleeves (preferably one with a closed patella design) during workouts to keep the patella stable.
Patellar tendonitis – AKA Jumper’s Knee
Patellar tendonitis, or otherwise known as “jumpers knee” is commonly confused with PFPS. It is basically the wear and tear of tendons due to overuse. This is another injury that could be prevented by frequent usage of sleeves during training. It is somewhat similar to the runner’s knee, only this one is called “jumper’s knee” because most afflicted individuals are athletes who do a lot of jumping, like basketball and volleyball.
Lifters are also vulnerable to this injury since there’s a lot of knee bending involved in lifting, much like the degree of bending in jumping. Like PFPS, symptoms include swelling, redness around the knee, and knee pain. Knee sleeves will allow the afflicted user to participate in normal workouts while facilitating faster recovery.
Benefit 3 – Transitioning to Heavier Weights
Most CrossFit coaches do not require beginners to use knee sleeves when lifting. This is so that you can become accustom to the movements without any aids. You also would be very unlikely to want to start pushing the weights straight off the bat. Much better to focus on technique and the movement itself first.
However, when you and your lifting gets a little more serious and sessions become more frequent, sleeves will keep the knees protected from wear and tear. Lifting heavy weights is very stressful (although eventually beneficial) to your body. You need to move more mass as you lift external weights, and this makes your knees prone to developing injuries. Your knees will need all the additional support from the strains and stresses to prevent knee injury.
It is left to be seen if wearing knee sleeves will actually help you in terms of being able to lift more weight. I know guys that swear it helps them lift more and that without them, they couldn’t do as much, but I think this is simply because they have become too dependent on them and have forgotten how it feels to lift without them. In the end, their true purpose is not to help you lift more, it is to help protect and prevent further injuries.
Benefit 4 – Cold Weather
Wearing knee sleeves can really help in adding warmth to the leg area during the cold months, when it is difficult to get the joints lubricated and warm. This is one of the main functions of knee sleeves, in that they provide warmth and allow the blood to flow more efficiently through the knee.
Benefit 5 – Rest Day Usage
You can still benefit from knee sleeves even when you’re not working out. Since they enhance your blood flow, you can wear them while you carry on with normal daily activities. This would mainly be if you already have an injury OR you have a little niggle in your knees you are a bit scared about. I know how this feels from personal experience.
I had a big competition coming up and I started getting pain in my knee whenever I went running. Without knee sleeves, I may have had to pull out of the comp and let our reserve step in.
Benefit 6 – You Look Awesome in them!
Ok, this is a bit of a silly one, but it is so true for most people. We all want to look our best, even when we are working out (maybe especially then!) Wearing them and feeling good about yourself can help boost your confidence and push you to go that little bit harder.
3 Disadvantages Why Not to Wear Knee Sleeves?
Ok, so we have covered the Benefits now… But what about the other side of the fence? Is it wrong to use knee sleeves? Well, not completely. However, there are a number of things that you should NOT use them for. In this section, I will cover three things you should never use your knee sleeves for.
1. A Replacement for a Proper Warm Up
A pair knee sleeves can do wonders in making warm ups more efficient, but that does not mean that you should forego a proper warmup. You need to work on your mobility and stretch your hamstrings, quads and hips well before you lift heavy weights.
2. A Replacement for Recovery Days
While the compression from knee sleeves will speed up the recovery process a little, it does not mean that you should cut down on the quantity and quality of your rest days. They are merely a peripheral accessory to your recovery program and not a main solution. They can help manage pain, but they are not a cure-all solution to it.
3. A Replacement to Good Form and Positioning
Here’s a thing about knee sleeves – do not become overly dependent on them! They will not substitute proper form and technique in your WODs.
Read Shape.com article about the 12 Myths about CrossFit
You should be in control of the positioning of your own joints, not your knee sleeves. There are many cases where the pain comes from poor posture and execution. Discuss with your coach how often you should use them. Knee injuries from overuse of the knees, but simply from the wrong form.
The most common reason for injury in the knees does not come from over training, rather from simply using the wrong form. Getting this right is FAR more important than actually wearing a sleeve is.
Knee sleeves are important accessories in your gym bag, although they are not a requirement. The need is still determined based on your own personal circumstances. In turn, your circumstances will help you in selecting knee sleeves. For instance, if you only need extra warmth during workouts, you probably don’t need 7mm knee sleeves. Even a 3.5mm or 5mm would do you fine.
Users have different responses as to the benefits of knee sleeves. Some feel only a slight improvement in their recovery and performance, while others swear by it. A little help from them when your knees aren’t at their best won’t hurt, as long as you are using it for the right reasons. In the end, it just comes down to personal choice and preference.