Why should you fuss over costly accessories – knee braces, knee sleeves, knee wraps – for a small part of your body? That small cap that connects a long part of your body certainly deserves some TLC because it does a lot of hard work for you in the box (gym). Knee problems is one of the more common injuries, so if you don’t want to be kept out of the box for a long time, a lowdown on your typical knee accessories should be worth your time.
In a Nutshell:
- Knee braces are for injuries
- Knee sleeves are for support
- Knee wraps are for lifting heavier
Obviously, there is a lot more to it than that! In this article we are going to take a close look at each one of these options for your knee, compare them with each other and explore when, where and why you would use them.
Knee braces are normally worn when there is already an existing injury, whereas knee sleeves and wraps are used for compression, support, and mostly preventive measures. There are 4 kinds of knee braces:
- Prophylactic braces: This is the type of knee brace used by athletes who participate in high-risk contact sports such as basketball and football. This is best used as preventive support by people who already have a history of badly damaged knees. Prophylactic knee braces help prevent re-occurrence of an injury.
- Functional braces: These are braces are highly recommended for patients whose ligaments have already been damaged and torn. Functional braces lessen instability in the knees, which is perfect for injured athletes who do a lot of leaping, pivoting and twisting. They somewhat serve as an “external ligament” since they substitute for a functioning ligament. These braces are usually worn for 6-12 months, or for as long as the athlete is under treatment.
- Rehabilitative braces: Like functional braces, rehabilitative braces are worn during rehabilitation and treatment. The biggest difference is that rehabilitative braces are worn only for several weeks immediately after the injury. These braces limit the movement of the knee to allow it to heal. When the patient is off the crutches, they can move on to functional braces while still continuing their treatment.
- Unloader braces: They are lightweight braces that alleviate knee pain of people who are suffering from osteoarthritis.
Braces are made for people who suffer or have suffered a serious injury like:
- ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament)
- MCL (Medial collateral ligament)
- PCL (Posterior cruciate ligament)
- and other similar injuries.
They are usually made of neoprene like knee sleeves but also has metallic hinges to limit knee movement.
Should you wear knee braces?
Given its nature and purpose, this decision should be made with your doctor’s recommendation. What type of knee brace and for how long they should be worn must be subject to the approval of your doctor.
Knee sleeves are considered another type of knee brace, but unlike the four braces I mentioned above, sleeves aren’t made up of metallic rods and hinges. Braces basically act like a “substitute knee”. Knee sleeves on the other hand do not limit or replace the function of a normal knee. Needless to say, sleeves are more apt for regular use by athletes with healthy knees and for medium to intense workouts.
Knee sleeves can be worn during and after workout. Its most highlighted feature is the compression it provides. Compression restricts muscle oscillation and narrows blood vessels, which translates to less stress on the muscles and faster and more efficient blood flow to and from the knee/leg area. Muscles, ligaments and tendons endure a lot of stress during rigorous workouts.
Efficient blood flow is very important to eliminate the waste produced by the muscles (e.g. lactic acid) and to bring oxygen and necessary nutrients to the muscles to facilitate faster recovery. That means reduced discomfort, pain and swelling in just a matter of days.
The compression also reduces muscle vibration and reduces knee instability, providing the user a more stable foundation that’s very valuable during jumps, twists, and lifts. Lastly, knee sleeves serve as a very helpful aid during warm-ups since it warms and lubricates the joints.
When to start wearing knee sleeves
A very common discourse among athletes is how necessary sleeves are for protection and performance. There are many choices of knee sleeves in the market, so first-timers usually get overwhelmed by their options. A beginner with healthy, functioning knees can get by without sleeves for quite a while.
However, when the intensity gets higher and the weights get heavier (in the case of lifters), knee sleeves can provide added support especially when you get a little wobbly. They will naturally assist you in achieving the correct stance during lifts. Knee sleeves should not be a substitute to proper form.
Read Also: A list of all our reviewed Knee sleeves
You can also use thinner ones outside the box (gym) to facilitate faster recovery. This is particularly applicable for people who amp up the frequency and intensity of their activity. A little discomfort or pain in the knee area is normal, so reach for your sleeves to enhance your recovery. Remember, when it doesn’t improve or it gets worse, it may be time to see the doctor to check for the possibility of an injury that knee sleeves alone cannot address.
Knee wraps are more common among bodybuilders and powerlifters, especially the competitive ones. They are wound tightly around the knees in spiral fashion. Wraps enhance performance and prevent injuries associated with heavy weights and squats.
The knee area collects elastic energy as a powerlifter moves downwards for a squat. A tightly-wrapped knee will accommodate more elastic energy. This elastic energy will then be used when the person goes up and lifts. The mechanical benefits of knee wraps include deeper, faster squats and greater vertical impulse. Also a benefit of knee wraps is the reduced horizontal displacement. This means that the barbell you lift does not move forward and backward too much.
Knee wraps also reduce the likelihood of injury by decreasing the stress on the tendons, which will consequently reduce the stress on the patella and quadriceps. However, incorrect use of the wraps can backfire. The tightness of the knee wraps presses the patella towards its cartilage, which can result to knee joint problems like arthritis. Follow this guide by bodybuilder.com on how to use knee wraps effectively.
What should you use knee wraps for?
There are only a very few amount of movements that you should be using your knee wraps for.
- Heavy Back Squats
- Heavy Front Squats
- Heavy Overhead Squats
- Heavy Leg press
- Heavy Squat Snatch and Squat Cleans
That’s it, you should NOT be using them for anything other than these, not deadlifts or other lifting movements.
How often should knee wraps be used?
There are many opinions out there about this, but the general consensus is that you should only wear them if you are intending on competing. Competitions often allow lifters to use knee wraps but during conditioning and strengthening, try to train with bare knees to really develop the squats without relying on the help of knee wraps. In the long run, it will also reduce wear and tear on your joints. Use knee sleeves instead if you need the warmth and compression.
Give Your Knees the Proper Help They Need
Knees are one of the most vulnerable parts of your body during workouts but their movement is crucial to proper execution. By identifying the purposes and differences of each knee accessory, you can pinpoint which ones you need the most. Moreover, it is important to know when not to use them. This point is very relevant to knee wraps, since they are more specific to squats and lifts. Frequent use or misuse of wraps can also lead to injuries, so use them sparingly.
Like I said at the top of this article, braces are for already injured knees, sleeves are for support and warmth and wraps are so you can lift heavier weights.
If you are getting any pain or discomfort in and around the knee, I recommend you go to the doctor for consultation and diagnosis, especially if it doesn’t go away after a few days of painkillers, rest and ice packs. Your doctor will be able to decide the most appropriate apparatus for your condition.