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Does your brain know where your knees are? If it does, you can thank proprioception. Proprioception (PRO‐pree‐
o‐SEP‐shen) is defined as the awareness of the position of one’s body. Neoprene knee sleeves are widely used to
increase proprioception at the knee and help prevent injury because they are lightweight, flexible, durable, and
tend to stay put during activities. Use of a thicker neoprene sleeve can aid in preventing extreme range of motion
at the knee during activities that would normally have the knee in a high degree of flexion or extension. A
neoprene knee sleeve that has a snug fit and a mechanism to prevent slippage could improve balance and help
Knee Sleeves and Proprioception
The brain constantly receives information about the position, location, orientation, and movement of the body via
sensory nerves. When a knee support sleeve is in contact with the skin around the knee, the muscle fibers in that
area are stimulated to tighten. Tightened muscles around a joint reduce the likelihood of injury when the knee is
Physical stress on the knee can have many causes. For example, moving into extreme ranges of motion when
squatting to lift weights can cause physical stress to the joint. Running or walking on uneven ground can cause
the knee to twist or tilt quickly and with force, which also can cause physical stress to the joint. Other physical
stressors to the knee joint can occur when high force is applied (jumping or the repetitive stress in aerobics).
There are many reasons to wear a knee support during activities. Consider two common knee issues,
Osteoarthritis (OA) and Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) repair or injury as they are emblematic of many knee
issues that keep people from fully engaging in activities or sports.
If you already have knee damage, for example osteoarthritis (OA), your balance and knee proprioception can be
negatively affected during activity2
. Balance control during daily activity is dependent on proprioception. Some
studies have shown that OA at the knee may result in the deterioration of balance control. Studies have also
demonstrated that people with knee OA that wear neoprene knee sleeves regularly have better balance control.
For example, in one study, subjects with knee OA were asked to maintain their balance on a shifting tilt table with
and without wearing a neoprene knee sleeve. In this test, loss of balance was scored. The further the subject
had to move from center before regaining stability, the higher their score and the worse their balance control.
Subjects were shown to have better balance (i.e. a lower score) when wearing a neoprene knee sleeve than
without (figure 1).
Neoprene Knee Sleeves; Thermal Compression and Enhanced
Proprioception in Knee Pain Prevention
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Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury/Repair
Recent research on recovery after ACL repair suggests that even when ligaments themselves are repaired to pre‐
injury function, the nerves that provide proprioceptive feedback to the brain may not recover or may be missing,
depending on the surgery type3
. ACL damage can result in decreased proprioception due to the nerve fibers in
the ligament being damaged. After reconstruction of the ligament, the nerves are not necessarily retained or
repaired, thus the feedback on knee position could be lacking. Because the ACL helps control extreme flexion, re‐
injury is most likely at end ranges of flexion, for example, during deep knee bends or dead lifts in weight lifting.
Wearing a thicker neoprene knee sleeve during activities could provide protective warmth, compression, and
extra protection from maximum knee flexion.
Neoprene supports, exercise, physical therapy, heat or cold applied to the painful joint are just some of the many
ways to relieve pain and prevent re‐injury4
. Thermal compression is the term used for a support that keeps the
joint warm while providing circumferential pressure to prevent swelling. Keeping a joint warm without excessive
swelling during exercise can reduce pain both during and after the exercise. Of course, any knee support needs to
fit well and not migrate down during exercise in order to provide support, warmth, and compression to the entire
knee. As with any injury, it’s imperative to be seen by a doctor in order to get a specific diagnosis and plan of care
before trying any treatment.
Riemann B.L. et. al. Journal of Athletic Training 2002;37(1);80‐84 The sensorimotor system, Part II: The role of proprioception in motor
control and functional joint stability
Chuang, Shih‐Hung et. al. Kaohsiung J Med Sci August 2007; Vol 23: No. 8 Effect of Knee Sleeve on Static and Dynamic Balance in Patients
with Knee Osteoarthritis
Dhillon, M.S. et. al. “Proprioception in anterior cruciate ligament deficient knees and its relevance in anterior cruciate ligament
reconstruction” Indian J Orthop, v.45(4); Jul‐Aug 2011
www.runnersconnect.net “Runners knee injury guide: Causes, symptoms, treatment Important to distinguish between runners knee &
patellar tendinitis which has a different treatment” John Davis, author.
Figure 1: Loss of balance score in subjects
wearing and not wearing a neoprene knee