Take a look in your gym bag. What do you have in there? Amongst a few items you most likely have a pair of your favorite knee sleeves. Other than wrist wraps, knee sleeves are the most common thing I see people own when it comes to CrossFit equipment. And just like some pieces of equipment, we can find legitimate usage for our knee sleeves. On the other hand we can also build an unhealthy reliance when it comes to our knee sleeves. Don’t get me wrong I think that knee sleeves are great and people can use them in appropriate situations. But like other pieces of equipment in CrossFit, people sometimes get a little carried away when it comes to the use of it.
Knee sleeves are a great investment for a number of reasons. They can increase temperature around the knee to warm up the synovial fluid inside the joint which allows for better lubrication of the joint. It keeps nice and warm which allows those back squats to feel nice and buttery. This can be extremely helpful in the winter time when it is hard to warm up the body, specifically the knees. They can also help deal with stiffness or mild pain that comes from inflammation of the patellar tendon (the front of the knee below the knee cap), which can come from a multitude of reasons. In addition to these benefits they can also help you lift a little but more weight depending on the thickness of the sleeve. While all these reasons are great, excess use of knee sleeves can lead to a mental reliance that can effect physical performance and also can lead to covering up issues that need attention.
For most relying on knee sleeves is more of a mental issue rather than a physical necessity. Most people convince themselves that they NEED to have their sleeves on or they will not lift as much weight, or have as fast of a time. As said before this is more of a placebo effect rather than the sleeve provide a physical boost in performance, as knee sleeves help you minimally in terms of improving physical performance. More often than not, arriving ten minutes earlier to the gym to get in a proper warm up and activation routine is a much better substitute than relying on knee sleeves to provide you with that extra boost.
The other issue that people run into is they usually use it to cover up pain in their knees from inflammation or possibly a more serious injury. If you have inflammation or pain in your knee, thats you body communicating to you that there is something wrong. It could be stemming from a mobility restriction, movement pattern issue, or an injury. Rather than trying to cover up the issue all the time, try to make efforts to figure out what is causing it, and then address it so it will not be a reoccurring issue. Constantly wearing knee sleeves to cover up pain is going to provide you with a short term compensation that could lead to a long term issue.
Again, do not get me wrong, I do not hate knee sleeves. I think they have their proper place and uses for everyone. I even used to use them myself a good amount. I think that people use them at a far higher frequency than is actually necessary. Of course there are exceptions for people who have sustained injuries and need to wear a knee sleeve to protect them or allow them to perform certain movements. But for most of us we have built up a mental reliance or use them to cover up an existing issue that should be addressed. The end goal for a lot of us who do CrossFit is to lead healthier lives and stay active as long as we can. We are being counterproductive if we constantly have to rely on equipment to perform basic movement patterns. At the end of the day we want to move better, so we can feel better! If you have any questions on how to wean your way off of using knee sleeves excessively, or when its best to use them, please ask one of the coaches!