Running is a joy. So much so that when you are forced to stop or scale back your running due to injury, it can feel daunting. For many people, the time between injury and getting back to fitness is the worst bit. However, it’s also one of the most important.
Depending on the issue, a knee support could offer you a helping hand during this period or it could help reduce the impact of some of your training. But it’s really important to get the right one. So, how do you do that?
“The choice of knee support might seem daunting,” Cameron Johnston, the founder of specialist recovery brand Riixo, told us. “Different braces work in different ways to manage different knee conditions, and selecting the right garment will make all the difference to your recovery time.”
There are four main categories of knee supports, from “functional” ones, which are most often used during rehabilitation, to “prophylactic” supports, which are used during high-risk, high-intensity exercises to protect you from possible injury. There are also supports that sit at the base of the kneecap and help to reduce the strain for conditions such as “runner’s knee”. And there are “unloader” supports, which are used for chronic conditions such as arthritis and help to shift your weight distribution.
“Unless suffering with a chronic condition, it isn’t advisable to wear a knee brace for prolonged periods,” Cameron adds. “Long-term use builds reliance on the brace and the body can become weaker. It may also alter running mechanics such that issues emerge with the other knee or elsewhere.”
If you have one, it is a good idea to work with your physiotherapist or another professional to identify what is best for you. Otherwise, it’s worth doing your research. No matter what the issue, it’s important to remember that these supports are often only part of the answer – and they are most effective when they are used in conjunction with a programme of rehabilitation.
How we tested
We injured our left hip and knee trying to come back to training too quickly after an ultramarathon last year – so we like to give ourselves a little extra support every now and then. We tested the below products over a six-week period, with supports being used as part of our daily life and – where appropriate – during multiple training sessions, from Tuesday treadmill to long Sunday runs and gym workouts. We marked each product in four areas: comfort, design, cost and – of course – how effective it was. The best are below.
The best knee supports for running for 2022 are:
- Best overall – Limitless Flex knee support sleeve: £10.99, Limitless-flex.com
- Best for innovation – Riixo knee cuff: £69, Riixo.com
- Best for everyday use – Bearhug running knee support: £19.99, Getabearhug,com
- Best value – Decathlon supportive knee strap: £9.99, Decathlon.co.uk
- Best for warm weather – Nike pro knitted knee sleeve: £16, Wiggle.co.uk
- Best high street support – Boots adjustable knee support: £18, Boots.com
- Best for protection – Decathlon knee ligament support strong 900: £39.99, Decathlon.co.uk
- Best for cross-training – Gymshark knee sleeve: £25, Gymshark.com
- Best for muscle recovery – 2XU flex recovery compression leg sleeves: £39, Wiggle.co.uk
Limitless Flex knee support sleeve
Limitless Flex is a specialist in cardio and weight equipment – so we had high hopes for the brand’s knee support sleeve. We’re pleased to say that we weren’t disappointed, finding the product the best value and one of the most effective products we tried.
The clever design includes silicone shock protection in the form of a soft gasket that goes around the knee and double spring support, which we found made the brace more comfortable and helped to alleviate our concerns about doing further damage to our joints. Thanks to the sleeve and strap combo, we ran up to nine miles in it and had no issues with the support staying in place. Available in three sizes, the brand provides a helpful chart to ensure you buy the right fit. And for just £12.99, it’s a real steal.
Riixo knee cuff
Best: For innovation
Riixo’s knee cuff is the most innovative support we’ve seen on the market. Its clever integrated gel pack can be frozen before being inserted if you’re looking to reduce swelling – or it can be heated up in the microwave to improve movement and ease pain. With its dual use, it’s a no brainer for anyone who is looking for a little relief to help them get back to fitness.
Once ready, we found the support was easy to fix around the knee with a simple strap system. The 360-degree compression design meant equal pressure was applied all the way around our knee, which made it comfortable to wear day-in, day-out. Plus, you get a wash bag and an insulated case to keep the support in.
At £69, it’s more expensive than a lot of the options – but we think it’s perfect for time-poor runners looking to help their recovery while they get on with their busy days.
Bearhug running knee support
Best: For everyday use
A friend recommended this support – and boy are we glad they did. Bearhug specialises in bamboo joint supports and muscle sleeves, so you know you’ll be getting something that not only works, but is better for the planet.
We tried the brand’s running knee support, wearing it under our jeans on a daily basis due to a flare-up as well as on runs. The brand says that its bamboo charcoal supports have been scientifically proven to increase blood flow through the joint compared to ordinary supports – and while we can’t vouch for that, we can say that it was extremely comfortable, providing compression to the joint without being too tight or restricting movement. We loved the orange and black design, with the breathable fabric preventing us from getting too hot on runs. It’s also available in five sizes, making it easy to get the right fit.
Decathlon supportive knee strap
This is one of the most comfortable knee straps we tried. Decathlon recommends it for those who are recovering from tendonitis in their patella tendon, which is exactly the issue we had. We found it stayed in place throughout runs and, although it only comes in one size, it was easily adjustable thanks to its series of velcro straps.
The soft foam pad at the front sat nicely under the patella and we enjoyed a full range of movement. We would say this offers slightly less protection than some of the full sleeve supports, however, if you are in the final stages of your recovery, or if you only need a small helping hand, then this is a great value option for just £9.99.
Nike pro knitted knee sleeve
Best: For warm weather
This is the perfect combo of easy to get on and supportive in all the right places. The four-way stretch fabric meant pulling it over our legs took very little effort, unlike some which amounted to a pre-workout workout. And when we did get to the squat rack, there was plenty of support without it restricting our movement.
On runs, Nike’s dri-fit technology wicks away the sweat nicely to avoid overheating. In fact, the slimmer design gave it a lighter-touch feel in almost every way. We’d definitely recommend it for athletes who need to maintain mobility – the flexibility makes it a perfect fit for runners and cyclists, while those squatting huge weights would probably prefer some of the more solid supports.
The price tag is reasonable, and we loved the design too, with some subtle detailing and that famous logo. Overall, it gets a big tick from us.
Boots adjustable knee support
Best: High street support
Boots’ adjustable knee support is designed to relieve joint and muscle pain including for injuries and pulled muscles, with the brand advising that its product is used in conjunction with rest, ice, compression and elevation. The adjustable design made it easy to find the right fit before we headed out, with a strap and hook fastener system enabling us to ensure it wasn’t too tight.
Made predominantly from neoprene fabric, it retained heat well which was good for aches and pains (although it’s worth bearing this in mind if it’s a particularly hot day). We found that we had a pretty good range of movement using this support, although if you are looking for full range then one of the sleeve-style supports may be better. At just £18, it’s a good option at a reasonable price.
Decathlon knee ligament support strong 900
Best: For protection
Designed for people with moderate knee sprains and a partial ligament tear, this is one of the most heavy-duty knee supports we tried. It certainly has the components in place to make sure your knee is well supported, including boning and a strap system above and below the knee.
The knitted fabric is quite thick, so it warms the joint nicely although you don’t get the same range of movement as some of the other products. This probably isn’t one you’d want to leave on all day under jeans, so it’s better for specific training sessions or recovery plans, and we had to wrestle to get it on so make sure you use the brand’s size guide to get the right fit.
Gymshark knee sleeve
Best: For cross-training
Started in 2012 from a garage in Birmingham, Gymshark has quickly become one of the UK’s, nay the world’s, best known brands. It markets itself to the conditioning community so it should be a sure bet for a good knee support.
We’re pleased to say its 5mm knee sleeve lived up to expectations. While this one isn’t aimed specifically at runners, it is great if you are cross-training or if you’re heading to the gym to build up fitness before pounding the pavements again. We found it was comfortable, staying in place throughout workouts (including during squats, leg presses and deadlifts) and providing stability thanks to its compressive fit.
The design is minimalist, with a subtle shark logo that made us smile. Available in five different sizes, we recommend you use the brand’s guide as you may need a bigger fit than you think (a medium was quite tight on us). For £25 for a pair, including a bag to keep them in, this is a great option if you want to snap up a bargain.
2XU flex recovery compression leg sleeves
Best: For muscle recovery
Okay, these technically aren’t knee supports. But the knee is a crucial part of the leg and it’s those pesky legs that can lead to problems with your knees – so we think this is an important addition.
This is a great brand to know about if you are looking for a little bit of help with recovery. Its compression products are top-notch, providing support in this case to your quad, hamstring and calf muscles, and helping to improve blood flow post-exercise. We found these were easy to get on, with the graduated fit meaning they could be pulled on or off without much trouble. There is a little extra space around the knee area to avoid it being too tight but also, crucially, we found that this gave us a better range of movement than some of the other products we tried.
We used these at the back-end of our recovery when we wanted to avoid our left knee seizing up after exercise – but they’re also great if you’re coming up to a particularly hard block of training and want to show your legs a bit of love.
The verdict: Knee supports for running
Buying the right knee support is not like buying the right pair of shorts. It’s worth doing your research – and talking to the experts – to make sure that you’re getting what you need. For us, it was a close tussle for the top spot between Limitless Flex’s knee support and Riixo’s innovative knee cuff, but ultimately the former won out for its great value.
However, there are plenty of other options on the market that we would still recommend, from Decathlon’s supportive knee strap, which sat just under the knee, to Gymshark’s knee sleeve, which was perfect for cross-training, it just comes down to finding the right one for you and your recovery.
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