The 6 Best Knee Compression Sleeves for Every Type of Activity
Up until recently, I was lucky enough to have never experienced any knee issues. I went about my life happily hiking, running, squatting, and jumping, giving no thought to my healthy ligaments and tendons. Then, one day after a multi-peak hike when I came down hard on a rock, that all changed—and now, I have to constantly think about my knee health. As it turns out, I'm not alone. Knees are one of the most easily injured joints in the body, and knee problems can range from mildly inconvenient to completely debilitating. Whether your knee ailments are caused by biomechanics (I, for example, was told I have tilted knee caps), an injury, or natural wear-and-tear over time due to age, it doesn't make the pain, swelling, instability, and stiffness any easier to deal with.
RELATED: The Best Running Shoes for Bad Knees
Depending where your knee pain is on the spectrum, your course of action will be quite different (and should always be made under the guidance of your doctor). To prevent injury and treat mild to moderate pain, knee compression sleeves are an excellent option. Compression garments, when worn during exercise, have been shown to increase oxygen flow to the muscle tissue and decrease recovery time post-activity, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
What's more, knee compression sleeves can be effective in knee rehabilitation after injuries, such as ACL surgery, by helping with everything from balance control to joint stabilization for injury prevention. And, according to a 2017 study in Arthritis Research & Therapy, they've also been reported to help alleviate the pain, stiffness, and joint instability often associated with arthritis. The takeaway? If you've ever had knee problems of any kind or want to prevent the possibility of a knee injury—especially during intense activity—it's a good idea to have a compression sleeve on hand.
Knee compression sleeves vs. braces
While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between knee sleeves and braces. A sleeve is a piece of fabric that slips over your knee, providing compression and lighter support to increase blood flow and prevent injury. Knee compression sleeves come in a variety of sizes, and tend to fit more discreetly and comfortably under your clothing than braces.
A knee brace, on the other hand, will slow and limit movement, and is often used during the recovery process for more serious knee injuries. They tend to be bulkier, with hinges and more mechanical support, to provide optimal stability and protection. The choice of a sleeve versus a brace should always be made in coordination with your doctor.
Open patella vs. closed patella knee compression sleeves
Knee compression sleeves with a hole at the knee cap are known as open patella sleeves. A common source of knee discomfort and injury, the patella is basically another name for the kneecap. An open patella sleeve, like this option from Pro-Tec, is ideal for those with patellar tendonitis or other kneecap injuries to help ensure the patella is tracking in line with the rest of the knee joint. The other option, a closed patella sleeve, provides slightly more overall support while still allowing the knee to move freely. This extra stability offered by a closed knee sleeve is typically preferred for activities like weightlifting.
Where to buy knee compression sleeves
Thankfully, high-quality knee sleeves are readily available at most fitness gear and activewear retailers, and many are sold online. When making your decision, you'll want to consider your specific needs (injury prevention, rehabilitation, or both) and a variety of other factors, like the style (open vs. closed patella, for example), the fit, and the price you're willing to pay.
To help you get started on your search, we rounded up the 6 best knee compression sleeves you can buy online, with options that span various price ranges and types of sleeves. No matter which one you go with, you'll be able to get back to your active lifestyle—without knee pain—in no time.
Here are the best knee compression sleeves in 2020:
- Best Quality: CW-X Stabilyx Knee Support Sleeve
- Best for Running: UFlex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve
- Best Rated: Pro-Tec Gel Force Knee Support
- Best High-End: Bauerfeind GenuTrain Active Knee Support
- Best Inexpensive: Pro-Tec Athletics Open Patella Knee Support
- Best for Weightlifting: Sling Shot Strong Knee Sleeves
Keep reading to learn more about these sleeves and why each one is ideal for certain activities and price points.
Best Quality: CW-X Stabilyx Knee Support Sleeve
After a grueling 17-mile hike a few weeks ago, my patellar tendonitis flared up in a big way. I immediately turned to my CW-X sleeve for relief, and it didn't disappoint. The brand's patented webbed design helps support the knee joint by banding together the ligaments and muscles, providing therapeutic compression for a variety of knee ailments. I also find the webbed design on the front useful in helping me ensure the sleeve is placed properly on my knee. What's more, the addition of spandex in the fabric means you'll still have complete range of motion in your knee and never feel constricted, even with the added stability.
Available at amazon.com, from $40
Best for Running: UFlex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve
It's no secret that running is pretty hard on the body. For this reason, many runners benefit from wearing a knee compression sleeve, whether they're recovering from an injury or want to prevent one. With more than 8,700 perfect 5-star reviews, UFlex is one of Amazon's best-selling picks for runners. It provides just the right mix of stability and range of motion to keep you supported without slowing you down. And since the knitted material is breathable with non-slip silicone grips, you won't have to worry about being distracted by a sweaty knee sleeve or one that slips down while you're pounding the pavement.
Available at amazon.com, $16
Best Rated: Pro-Tec Gel Force Knee Support
Ideal for both recovery and injury prevention, this top-rated knee sleeve from Pro-Tec has an anatomically-placed gel pad that helps stabilize the kneecap, while the rest of the sleeve provides extra support on both sides of the knee. It's great to wear during workouts of any kind because the soft, breathable material won't feel uncomfortable or distracting and is stretchy enough to move with you. Tons of shoppers rave about this multi-use compression sleeve and specifically call out its durability and the minimal restriction of movement it offers. One runner even credits it with helping them get back into a normal routine after they started experiencing knee pain on longer routes. It's an all-around solid pick that's also moderately priced at just $30.
Available at amazon.com, from $24
Best High-End: Bauerfeind GenuTrain Active Knee Support
Healthcare equipment brand Bauerfeind makes a number of compression and support products that are known for their durability and excellent quality—and theGenuTrain Active Knee Support sleeve is no exception. This top-of-the-line knee sleeve features medical-grade compression, meaning it'll give optimal support and stability whether you're using it for injury rehabilitation or prevention. Made with a soft, breathable knit material, it also includes a silicone pad over the kneecap for added comfort and protection on this sensitive area. The excellent compression and secure fit on this option means it can even help prevent swelling. One reviewer, who said they had a torn meniscus, wrote: "My knee immediately feels better with this brace on, the support it provides is fantastic. It feels like there are springs helping to power my knee." While this heavy-duty sleeve is pricier than most, reviewers say it's well worth the cost because it really works.
Available at amazon.com, from $95
Best Inexpensive: Pro-Tec Athletics Open Patella Knee Support
Pro-Tec's open patella knee sleeve is the best inexpensive option on this list, providing slight compression and warmth to the joint without limiting range of motion. This open patella version has an opening over the knee for enhanced patella tracking during movement, making it ideal for those with kneecap pain or injuries. Reviewers report that this affordable compression sleeve is supportive, comfortable to wear while running or doing other activities, and stays in place during movement. One customer even said their knee pain "was completely gone" after wearing this for a week.
Available at amazon.com, from $12
Best for Weightlifting: Sling Shot Strong Knee Sleeves
For both serious weightlifters and strength-training newbies, a knee sleeve is a helpful tool for protecting the sensitive ligaments in your knees, as well as increasing blood flow to the area when performing exercises like squatting, lunging, and pressing weight overhead. These knee sleeves from Sling Shot come in a two-pack and are stiffer than typical compression sleeves, providing complete support and rebound during heavy sets. The neoprene sleeves are seamless and easy to slip on and off, so you won't mind wearing them throughout your workout for the added protection.
Available at amazon.com, $67
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