If you've ever seen a runner sporting a thin, tourniquet-like knee strap, you may have wondered about the purpose and effectiveness of the device. What is it? How does it work? What is it supposed to do? Does it actually help?
With a vast selection of sports medicine braces and supports available on the market, why choose a knee strap? If you are a runner dealing with knee pain, knowing a little more about knee straps can help you decide if it's the right device for you.
How it Works
Knee straps are designed to compress the tendons surrounding the knee. The idea is that the stress any particular tendon assumes while contracting can be decreased because the knee strap helps redistribute the tension. There is also some evidence that knee straps can be used to keep tendons properly aligned. Knee straps can be worn above or below the knee, depending on the knee injuries plaguing the runner.
When to Use a Knee Strap
Knee straps are commonly used to alleviate the pain and swelling associated with patellar tendonitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner's knee), and IT band syndrome. These injuries generally result from overuse, but can also be caused by increasing the distance or intensity of training runs, changing running surfaces, or running in shoes that are not sufficiently supportive. All of these injuries involve inflamed tendons, so the use of a knee strap to compress the irritated tendons can be beneficial.
If a runner is suffering from patellar tendonitis or patellofemoral pain syndrome, the knee strap should be worn under the knee, directly over the patellar tendon. The patellar tendon connects the quadriceps to the tibia and can become irritated by the repetitive motion of running. Additionally, improper alignment of the patellar tendon and the patella can cause inflammation. A knee strap can help keep the tendon properly aligned and can redistribute the stress on the tendon.
If a runner is suffering from IT band syndrome, the knee strap should be worn above the knee. The IT band is a long tendon that runs from the hip along the outside of the knee and inserts into the tibia. Repetitive rubbing of the tendon on the outside of the femur near the knee joint can cause irritation. Wearing a knee strap can decrease the friction associated with IT band syndrome and provide some pain relief.
It is important to realize that knee straps are not miracle cures and will not treat the root cause of your injury. Whether you have patellar tendonitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome, or IT band syndrome, you must take steps to treat the underlying condition. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, training modifications, and strengthening exercises can all be beneficial. The role of the knee strap is simply to provide some pain relief and support so you can train more comfortably in the meantime.
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