If you have patellar tendonitis and are thinking about getting a knee sleeve, here’s what you need to know.
Types of Knee Sleeves
There two main types of knee sleeves:
You’ve got your more loosely fitting knee sleeve and you’ve got tighter knee sleeves that support the knee.
Let’s talk about how much they help patellar tendonitis and the one problem they all have in common.
First off, the loosely fitting knee sleeve:
This could be a neoprene sleeve it could a kneepad or something similar.
The main goal of these is not to support the knee directly, but to keep it warm. This can be useful for knees that feel stiff, especially in colder weather.
Since there’s little blood circulation in the tendon, temperature control happens a lot more through keeping body heat in. Especially since the muscle that attaches to the patellar tendon is a fair bit away.
Keep Patellar Tendon Warm
But if you look at your knees:
You’ll notice the tendons only covered by a thin layer of skin and that’s not enough to retain heat on cold days.
As tendons get colder, they lose elasticity and risk of injury increases. That’s why warming up is important but even the best warm-up won’t help you much if the ambient temperature is so low that all the heat gets sucked out of knees again in a just a few minutes.
And that’s why these loosely fitting knee sleeves can reduce stiffness, especially in the colder months.
Patellar Tendon Straps
Another type of knee sleeve you’ll find recommended for patellar tendonitis is the patellar tendon strap.
This one won’t keep the heat in, but it has other potential benefits:
- Can reduce pain in the tendon a little bit
- May improve proprioception (body awareness)
- Can reduces pre-landing muscle activation of the quadriceps, possibly leading to a softer landing
- In one study it helped participants land with more neutral leg alignment (i.e., less hip rotation, knee adduction, ankle inversion) and a lower ground reaction force (Rosen)
Great stuff right? Well…
These studies also showed that you’re more likely to benefit from the strap if you have “small knee girth, short duration of symptoms and small tendon abnormalities”.
So those with thicker knees and a longer history of symptoms may not find patellar tendon straps useful.
Personally, I’m not a fan of them because far too many people use patellar tendon straps as a crutch to stay active in their sport in spite of patellar tendonitis, which in my experience is a mistake everyone ends up regretting.
But, over the years I’ve come to realize that patellar tendon straps can still be useful to manage the pain, like when you’re driving or sitting for long periods of time. They’re a stop-gap solution for pain during rehab, but the strap won’t heal your tendon.
Okay, moving on.
Knee Sleeves for Patellar Maltracking
Another type of knee sleeve is the one with gel ring around the kneecap. These may be useful for patella-femoral pain syndrome or to reduce patellar maltracking.
So someone who has one of these conditions in addition to patellar tendonitis may benefit from them, but for those with pure patellar tendonitis this type of knee sleeve likely won’t provide a benefit beyond keeping the knee warm.
And finally, you may also come across knee braces if you’re comparing different models online.
These are a lot bulkier and stiffer than knee sleeves. They usually come with Velcro straps to keep the brace in place.
You’d use these knee braces after acute knee injuries, like ACL or MCL tears, and to stabilize the knee after surgery. But for pure patellar tendonitis they’re unnecessary.
Do knee sleeves help patellar tendonitis?
In some ways, yes, they do help. Knee sleeves can reduce stiffness by keeping the tendon warm, they can support the kneecap to reduce patellar maltracking, and they can make the pain more manageable.
What they can’t do, is they can’t heal the tendon. So knee sleeves can help you feel somewhat better for a some time, but if you want to get rid of tendonitis permanently you’ll still have to do tendon strengthening exercises and work on biomechanical issues that can contribute to tendon overload.
If you want to know more about how exactly you can do this plus what works and what doesn’t, check out the step-by-step course that I put together:
See you next time.