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Educational Resources: Performance, Sports Medicine, and Bracing Articles

What are the Key Differences Between Sleeve and Wraparound Knee Braces?

If you look around any athletic training room or physical therapy office, you’re likely to find a knee brace or two lying around. They are incredibly useful in cases of knee sprains, instability, or injury. Knee injury prevention, as well as recovery, can be assisted with the use of a brace, but how are you to know which style brace is best?
Two different styles of knee braces you’re likely to find are sleeves and wraparound. They are not created equal, and they serve different roles, depending on the injury, patient age, activity level or sport, and condition of the knee-joint. Find out what the key differences are between these two styles, and you’ll be better equipped to reach for the right brace for yourself.

Sleeve Knee Braces

McDavid 429 Hinged Knee Brace is a Sleeve Style Brace

The McDavid 429 Hinged Knee Brace is a Sleeve Style Brace

Sleeve style braces are probably the most common type of knee brace. Sleeves pull onto the leg over the foot and fit snugly around the knee-joint when pulled up into place. Many sleeves have built-in pull-tabs to help pull the brace up into place. Knee sleeves may provide patellar support, ligament stability, warmth, compression, or assist the functioning of the joint. Many of these sleeves are neoprene fabric that creates a tight compression around the joint. These types of sleeves create warmth and the compression helps to reduce swelling. Newer designs now use moisture-wicking materials and hypoallergenic materials for those allergic to neoprene or wanting a ‘cooler’ option. Some knee sleeves have integrated hinges into the sleeve to add stability during sports or daily life activities. Hinged knee sleeves help keep everything stable and protect the cartilage and ligaments within the knee. Other knee sleeve options may have buttresses or straps built into the sleeve that helps pull the knee cap (patella) into proper alignment or reduce the risk of subluxation and dislocation.

Sleeve style braces are often used for knee injury prevention or in the later stages of rehabilitation. In many different activities such as basketball, football, running, or soccer, the knee-joint can be put under tremendous stress from contact or repetitive movements. A compression sleeve can aid in supporting the joint and assist it to move in a more natural and less painful fashion. Your doctor or therapist may recommend wearing it during physical activity or throughout the day as it doesn’t reduce normal motion but rather supports it.
A hinged knee sleeve can also be incredibly useful when returning to sport from an injury or surgery to aid and protect the movement and recovery of the knee joints and its ligaments. Hinged knee braces may be used to help create stability and protect the cartilage or LCL, MCL, ACL, or PCL ligaments of the knee. Often, athletes such as football players wear hinged knee braces and sleeves to prevent damage from contact or twists that may stress and injure the knee during play.

Sleeve style braces may not be the best choice for patients immediately after surgery due to the difficulty of pulling on over swelling, stitches, surgical wrappings and gauze. We often also do not recommend sleeves for elderly users as they can be quite difficult to pull on if limited motion or strength exists, even with the pull tabs included on the side of the brace.

DonJoy Drytex Wraparound Hinged Knee Brace

DonJoy Drytex Wraparound Hinged Knee Brace

Wraparound Knee Braces

Like sleeve style braces, a wraparound knee brace can also be used to provide support for the knee-joint and related structures. They are easily applied, so it’s perfect for those with reduced mobility such as the elderly or those with a recent injury or surgery who may have trouble applying a sleeve style brace. Wraparound braces usually open up and wrap around the knee to be applied. Velcro or straps allow the brace to be quickly adjusted, closed, and secured in place. These features allow adjustments to be made while wearing and the brace to be applied with care if knee swelling or wounds exist.

Wraparound braces are a great option for those needing a quick re-adjustment or removal once applied. These braces allow the brace to be removed without first removing footwear such as cleats or skates. A doctor or a physical therapist may also recommend this style brace for patients that are non-athletes and just need a brace for daily activities. Because of the Velcro application and the occasional tendency for this brace to shift slightly or come undone we usually do not recommend most wraparound braces for contact and competitive athletics.
Many wraparound braces include side metal hinges or spiral stays for added support to the knee ligaments and cartilage. Hinges may be free moving within a normal range of motion or may contain dials or adjustment screws that lock the hinges and restrict some or all of the knee’s motion. Most post-surgery brace options are wraparound braces with locking hinges that can restrict knee motion and allow healing. As the patient progresses with their rehabilitation adjustments are usually made to the hinge to allow more motion, while still providing support, protection, and stability to the recovering knee.

If you need a good knee brace in either a wraparound or sleeve style, DonJoy braces are an excellent choice and just one of the many quality brands we offer. Contact Hat Trick Sports to discuss our range of braces and what would suit you best.

ACL Injury Prevention Programs

BOSU Ball used to train balance and help reduce ACL tears

BOSU Ball squats and balancing can help reduce ACL injuries by training joints and muscles to react appropriately.

A tear to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in the knee can be one of the most detrimental injuries to an athlete. In order to decrease the chance of such an injury occurring, preventative programs should be performed by athletic populations. These programs can be done at home or during the beginning of a practice. ACL prevention programs can also be incorporated into a warm up, prior to exercise. The programs focus on plyometrics, balance, stretching, and strengthening exercises.

Plyometrics are described as rapid and powerful movements. These movements first cause a muscle to lengthen, then shorten. The combination of lengthening and shortening the muscle at a fast pace increases the power of a muscle. Plyometrics aid in the prevention of ACL injuries by training the muscles to react at a faster rate preventing the knee from shifting. Examples of plyometrics are single leg cone jumps, squat jumps, single leg bounding, and ladder drills. The goal when performing these drills is to jump immediately again after making contact with the ground. The exercises are generally performed for about 30 seconds, however when first starting the drills, a shorter time may be required to begin and then gradually increased with practice.

Balance and stretching are also key factors to preventing ACL injuries. It is important to thoroughly stretch the calf, quadriceps, and hamstring muscles. Stretching these muscles will ensure that the muscles are not too tight which could cause a muscular imbalance and increase your chance of injury. Balance or proprioception is also a goal in ACL prevention as it can allow muscles to work together to stabilize the body on various surfaces. If the body and knee cannot quickly react to surface changes, an ACL injury could occur. Balancing exercises can be performed on one leg, on uneven surfaces such as a BOSU Ball, and can incorporate throwing a ball while balancing to increase muscular stability and neurologic reaction time.

Strengthening is the final aspect of an ACL prevention program. It is essential to strengthen not only the hip and thigh musculature, but also the core. Strengthening the musculature of the legs allows for a more stable knee joint which decreases the risk of ACL injury. Core and leg strengthening can be done using the body’s weight through exercises such as walking lunges, squats, sit ups, and planks. Exercises such as walking lunges are also an adequate exercise to warm up and loosen the muscles before activity.

While performing ACL prevention programs, it is imperative to focus on technique more than the number of repetitions completed in the allotted time. When jumping during plyometrics, the proper landing technique is to bend at the knees and hips to absorb the force rather than keeping the knees and hips straight causing the force to compress the joints. The phrase ‘light as a feather’ is used to describe how to land, meaning land as softly and quietly as possible to absorb the shock. The toes are to remain pointing forward at all times, and the knees are to stay in line with the toes. This ensures that the muscles are functioning together providing the best stability for the ACL. Poor technique can lead to a muscle imbalance, decreasing the stability of the knee.

ACL prevention programs can be done in 15 minutes and research has found them to be beneficial to help prevent injury. These programs are recommended to be performed at least 2-3 times per week with at least 1-day rest between each session. A minimum of 6 weeks is needed to provide the best results. Although it appears to be a hassle, these programs only take a few minutes to perform and can be done using simply the body’s weight, while providing a decreased risk of a serious ACL knee injury.

Should I use Static or Dynamic Stretching in my Workouts?

     One of the most critical aspects of injury prevention is the maintenance of complete and non-restricted joint range of motion through stretching.  Stretching not only improves flexibility, but also can reduce the risk of injury.  The question of whether static or dynamic stretching is the most beneficial prior to exercise has been debated.  Recent evidence has determined that dynamic stretching is most effective prior to exercise, while static stretching is most beneficial following activity.  Dynamic stretches resemble the movements produced during activity, while static stretches allow a relaxation period for the muscles of the body to recover.  So what is static and dynamic stretching?

Static Stretching

            Static stretches are utilized to increase the flexibility of a joint or multiple joints while

the body is at rest.  During a static stretch, the muscle is placed at the maximal stretch, which is generally determined as the point at which a firm, yet bearable resistance is felt. 

Static Stretching

Perform static stretches after workouts.

The position is then held for 10 to

20 seconds and repeated from 3 to 5 times.  Static stretching can be as simple as the common hamstring stretch.  While sitting on the floor with legs extended straight out in front of you, slowly lean forward to touch your fingers to your toes and hold this position.  When performing the stretch do not bounce or rock, hold a controlled stretch the entire time.  This is an example of static stretching.  Resistance bands and stretch straps are two common pieces of equipment used by athletes to assist them in performing static stretches.      

Dynamic Stretching

           Dynamic stretching is a series of controlled movements with slight resistance which are intended to improve range of motion, or flexibility, as well as prepare the

Dynamic Stretch

Athlete warming up on the track performing dynamic lunge stretches.

muscles for a more intense activity.  A dynamic stretch is generally repeated about 10 times per stretch.  During the repetitions, the dynamic stretch is accelerated from small, slow movements to bigger and faster movements.  Unless physically fit, it is recommended that dynamic stretching is slowly incorporated into a fitness routine to prevent soreness or injury.  Walking lunges are an example of dynamic stretching in which a typical lunge is performed while walking forward for a designated distance.  Other examples include arm circles and half squats.  Dynamic stretches can also be performed using resistance bands and stretch straps.


            While both static and dynamic stretching have been proven effective in increasing the range of motion of a joint, dynamic stretching can also prepare and ‘warm-up’ the muscles for further activity by mimicking physical activity patterns.  Since sports and other activities are dynamic in nature, the best way to prepare for exercise is with dynamic stretching that incorporates full body stretching with your sports movement patterns.  Static stretching should be utilized following activity to allow muscles and joints to increase flexibility and aid in the prevention of soreness.  For those who are just beginning an exercise regimen, it is recommended that dynamic stretching is slowly incorporated into the warm up routine to prevent soreness or injury.

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