Knee Compression Sleeve

Sep 25, 2023
Knee sleeve

Written by: Dr. Samantha Smith PT, DPT (Knee Replacement Specialist)
Some links in this article are commission based.

Knee replacement surgery is a transformative surgery that provides improved mobility and relief from chronic pain for countless individuals suffering from severe knee joint issues. Following knee replacement surgery, a critical aspect of the recovery process is the use of supportive aids to facilitate healing and restore functionality. Among these aids, knee sleeves or knee compression sleeves have become very popular in post-operative care.

While knee sleeves are commonly associated with post-operative recovery after knee replacement surgery, their utility extends far beyond this specific context. Knee sleeves serve as a versatile aid for a wide range of knee injuries, providing crucial support, stability, and pain relief.


The benefits of knee sleeves

  1. Enhanced Stability and Support:

    Following knee replacement surgery, the joint undergoes significant changes. Knee sleeves provide a crucial layer of stability, holding the joint in proper alignment. This added support minimizes unnecessary movement, reducing the risk of strain or injury during weight-bearing activities.

  2. Reduced Swelling and Inflammation:

    Post-operative swelling is a common occurrence. Neoprene-based knee sleeves, known for their excellent compression properties, apply gentle pressure around the knee. This compression aids in reducing edema and promoting lymphatic drainage, facilitating a faster resolution of post-operative swelling.

  3. Effective Pain Management:

    Pain management is a concern after knee replacement surgery. Knee sleeves offer a layer of cushioning and support, which can help alleviate discomfort by distributing pressure evenly across the joint. This enables individuals to move more comfortably during rehabilitation exercises.

  4. Improved Circulation:

    Proper blood circulation is essential for healing. Knee sleeves, especially those with graduated compression, facilitate better blood flow. This promotes the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the healing tissues, accelerating the recovery process.

  5. Encourages Early Mobilization:

    Knee sleeves play a pivotal role in encouraging early mobilization and weight-bearing. By providing a sense of security and stability, they instill confidence in individuals, allowing them to engage in prescribed rehabilitation exercises more readily. This proactive approach aids in regaining functional capacity sooner.

  6. Protection from Minor Abrasions and Bumps:

    During the early stages of recovery, the knee joint is vulnerable to minor bumps or abrasions. Knee sleeves act as a protective barrier, reducing the risk of inadvertent injuries that may impede the healing process.

  7. Psychological Comfort and Confidence:

    Recovering from knee replacement surgery can be a daunting process. Wearing a knee sleeve provides a tangible sense of support, offering reassurance to individuals as they navigate their post-operative journey. This psychological comfort can be invaluable in building confidence and motivation.

  8. Long-Term Benefits in Daily Activities:

    While initially used for post-operative recovery, knee sleeves can continue to provide benefits in the long term. They offer ongoing support for daily activities, providing an extra layer of stability and comfort, especially for individuals who may have residual weakness or joint instability


Types of knee sleeves

  • Neoprene Knee Sleeves:

    Neoprene knee sleeves are among the most popular and widely used types. Constructed from a synthetic rubber-like material, they offer exceptional elasticity and durability. Neoprene sleeves provide excellent compression, which helps reduce swelling and promotes joint stability. They are particularly beneficial for post-operative recovery, as they offer a snug fit and keep the knee joint warm, aiding in pain relief and muscle relaxation.


    Neoprene knee sleeves are most commonly used post knee replacement.

    Modvel Knee Braces for Knee Replacement  
  • Open-Patella Sleeves:

    Open-patella sleeves have a hole over the kneecap, providing direct support to the patella. This design offers additional stability if your knee cap moves or sub-luxes (pops out of place) easily.  An open-patella sleeve can also help alleviate pressure on the kneecap. The sleeve still provides good compression to the whole knee and controls the movements of the patella. 


  This sleeve is great for someone who has knee cap pain.
Open Patella Knee Sleeve

  • Sleeves with Stays:

    Some knee sleeves come with additional support in the form of stays, which are usually made of metal or plastic. These stays are strategically positioned along the sides of the sleeve to provide extra lateral support. They are particularly useful for individuals who require enhanced stability, such as those recovering from ligament injuries or other forms of joint instability.  

    This knee sleeve is generally for someone with LCL or MCL tears. This is not a common sleeve for knee replacement surgery patients. 




  • Adjustable Knee Sleeves:

    Adjustable knee sleeves feature straps or fasteners that allow for customizable compression and fit. This type of sleeve can be tightened or loosened according to individual comfort and support requirements, providing a tailored solution for varying stages of recovery. 

    This is not a popular knee sleeve for a knee replacement patients. Generally, knee replacement patients do not have severe stability issues to the point of needing the extra support of the straps to tighten. 


When not to use a knee sleeve

While knee sleeves can be incredibly beneficial for many knee-related conditions, including various injuries and arthritis, there are specific reasons why they should not be used after a knee replacement surgery:

  1. Risk of Compromising Surgical Incisions:

    Post-surgery, the incision area is sensitive and requires careful attention. Wearing a knee sleeve with improper sizing or excessive compression can lead to increased pressure on the incision site. This may cause discomfort, irritation, or even potentially compromise the healing process.

    Please make sure you knee incision is completely healed and scarred over. If you have staples, sutures or steri strips, you do not want to use a knee sleeve yet. 

  2. Potential for Dependence on Support:

    While knee sleeves provide valuable support, excessive reliance on them can inadvertently lead to muscle atrophy or weakness. It's essential for post-operative patients to engage in prescribed exercises to strengthen the surrounding musculature and promote natural stability.

    A good time to use knee sleeves is if you are planning on doing extra activity that you are not used to. For instance, if you are planning a hike with your dog or a walk on the beach, this might be a great time to put the knee sleeve on for extra support until you feel confident enough with your new knee. 

    Wearing the knee sleeve all day for basic daily activities is not recommended. We want you knee to be able to tolerate those activities without the support. However, if there is absolutely no way you can do these activities without the knee sleeve, then wearing it will definitely bring you more benefit than harm. 

  3. Potential for Delayed Muscle Engagement:

    Wearing a knee sleeve continuously may inadvertently lead to reduced engagement of the surrounding muscles. This is counterproductive to the rehabilitation process, as strengthening these muscles is crucial for long-term stability and mobility.

    A knee sleeve should be worn only intermittently throughout the week to support you during high level activities. Your high level activities may be different than someone else’s. Try to slowly wean yourself away from the knee sleeve as you become stronger each week.

  4. Individual Variations in Recovery:

    Every patient's recovery process is unique. While some individuals may benefit from a knee sleeve, others may find it unnecessary or even counterproductive. The decision to use a knee sleeve should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider who can assess the specific needs and progress of the patient.


Supporting a Spectrum of Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are not limited to surgical interventions alone; they encompass a broad spectrum of conditions ranging from ligament strains to meniscal tears and patellar instability. In each of these scenarios, knee sleeves offer a valuable layer of support that aids in the rehabilitation process. By mitigating excessive movement and providing gentle compression, knee sleeves become an integral component of recovery protocols.

Ligament Injuries: A Stabilizing Companion

In cases of ligament injuries, such as ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) or MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) strains or tears, stability is extremely important. Knee sleeves with reinforced side stays or additional support structures provide the necessary stability to reduce strain on the damaged ligament. This added reinforcement empowers individuals to engage in rehabilitative exercises with confidence, ultimately expediting the healing process.

Meniscal Tears: Alleviating Strain and Discomfort

Meniscal tears, which involve damage to the cartilage discs within the knee, often result in pain and reduced mobility. Knee sleeves, particularly those designed with cushioning properties, help distribute pressure evenly across the knee joint. This serves to alleviate strain on the affected area, providing much-needed relief and allowing individuals to gradually regain range of motion.

Patellar Instability: Targeted Support for Enhanced Tracking

Issues related to patellar (kneecap) stability can lead to chronic discomfort and limited mobility. Specialized knee sleeves with open-patella designs offer focused support to the kneecap, promoting proper tracking and reducing the risk of subluxation or dislocation. This targeted assistance plays a crucial role in managing patellar instability, allowing individuals to move with greater confidence and comfort.

Overuse Injuries: A Preventive Measure

For those engaged in physically demanding activities or sports, overuse injuries like runner's knee or patellar tendonitis can be common challenges. Knee sleeves act as a preventive measure, providing compression and support to reduce the strain on tendons and ligaments. By incorporating knee sleeves into their routine, athletes and active individuals can mitigate the risk of developing these overuse injuries.


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