How Tight Should Knee Sleeves Be

It would be a contradiction of terms to think compression knee sleeves will not be tight—right?  You know right off that compression is applying pressure! So,  you’re looking for a general feeling of squeezing and tightness from your knee sleeves.  Knee sleeves will need to be tight by the very nature of their design and purpose to be effective. However, you do not want to cut off circulation to your feet.

How to Choose the Right Size

All compression sleeves come with a size guide or chart, and the importance of correctly using it can not be overstated. They will generally come in S, M, L, XL and will be determined by taking a couple of measurements on your leg.

How to Measure for Knee Sleeves?

A seamstress tape is best for measuring for knee sleeves

The first measurement will be from the center of your knee cap up — or down. Some sleeves are measured up your thigh and some down your shin. That’s usually from 3 -7 inches one way or the other, but you must read the directions to find out. 

The next measurement will be the circumference of your thigh or calf at the appointed distance from the center of your patella.

The measurement should be accurate, and the best way to take it is with a cloth seamstress tape. I have tried to measure my thigh and calf with a tape measure, but it’s difficult to get an accurate measurement.

It’s pretty easy to measure from the center of your knee cap up or down with almost any measuring device. But the circumference of your thigh might be a little tricky without a seamstress tape. However, you can do it with a piece of string. Just wrap it around your thigh at the correct point and mark it, or hold your finger there until you can measure the distance with a tape measure.

How to Use the Size Chart for Knee Sleeves?

By taking the time to read the size chart that accompanies all knee sleeves I can see:

  1. Uflex takes the thigh measurement 4″ above the knee cap. This measurement is ALWAYS from the center of your knee cap. Just have a look at it and guess at the center.
  2. Compare your own measurement with the chart. You can see that they advise you to buy a larger size IF you fall on a dividing line. For instance, they say that if your thigh measures 17″ you should go for the Medium size.

** When I take the measurement and fall on or very close to the line, I always opt for the smaller size.***

It is essential to closely read the directions for each manufacturer. You will measure in different places for each, and the sizes will vary, so just be as accurate as possible.

How Tight Should Knee Sleeves Be?

Because of the variety of sizes, they come in—there’s always the question concerning how tight is too tight?  What I know from wearing my own knee sleeves, and being around other people wearing them,  is that it depends a lot on your own preferences.

Some people like knee sleeves so tight that they can feel them “pinching” on their leg and knee all the time. Personally, I feel like this is cutting off the blood supply to my feet, and I don’t want that at all.  What I like is for the sleeve to feel a little snug, comfortable and warm.

How Knee Sleeves Work

In the end, how tight you wind up wearing them is going to depend mostly on what you are comfortable with?  People wearing neoprene sleeves for weight lifting usually like them extremely tight, but that’s only for an hour or so. How long I can wear a compression knee sleeve and how tight is a sorta hit and miss procedure, until I got to the size that felt the best?

But to be honest, knowing a little about your own knees and why knee sleeves are important can really help you in knowing how snug you probably want your own.  Let’s see exactly:

At that point, you should have a better idea about how tight our own knee sleeves should be and more about how to order your first one or pair.

Knee Joints Are Important

You already know, but just for the record, your knee is the joint between your hip and your ankle. The joint that allows your leg to bend and fold forward and backward. It’s the point where the femur (the long thigh bone) meets another bone called the tibia (your shin bone).

How tight should knee sleeves be
Anatomy of a Knee


If you take the time to examine the image above you can see for yourself how knee sleeves help protect healthy knees and support those that aren’t as healthy.

Here’s what I’m talking about:
The only thing that holds the two bones together are muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  If your cartilage is injured or deteriorating due to arthritis, a good compression knee sleeve will help keep the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from “splaying” out. Therefore aiding in the support of the joint and help muscles hold up the Femur bone.  (check out this post on knee sleeves and arthritis)

On the other hand, if you’re knees are healthy they do the same thing, helping to prevent tears, injury, and damage to your knee while keeping the joint warm and healthy with good blood circulation.

Knee Sleeves: Purpose and Function

Now that we’re on the same page about the actual structure, components,  and layers of the knee joint, let’s think about why you might want to wear knee sleeves or knee braces?  There are main reasons sleeves and braces are used either before or after an actual injury or displacement.

  • Knee sleeves are used by runners, joggers, walkers, weightlifters, powerlifters, basketball and football players, and more.  Their main purpose is to make a compressive protective layer around their knee joints, supporting the connective tissues, muscles, ligaments, and tendons — keeping them snug and warm. (read in that green box again)
  • Another function that they perform is that they counter the effects of joint weariness and fatigue from previous injuries, small muscle tears, arthritis, and tired muscles.  Using knee sleeves after any of these has occurred can prevent and help with more soreness and pain.  Use them in conjunction with exercise for weight loss, athletic events, or a walk around the block for knee pain relief.

Knee Sleeves: Material, Sizes and Fit

They come in a wide range of sizes but the choice of size and tightness is based on a few fundamental considerations. Choosing the right size and tightness may not be easy to begin with, but you will thank yourself for continuing on until you’ve found just the right size.

As the perfect fit and tightness of knee sleeves is our main concern, let’s get to some details.  In the end, your first choice may not be your perfect size or even the material you like the best?

The wrong kind of sleeves may actually cause damage and health issues in the long run, but not immediately. However, I can tell you that you could cause some damage pretty quickly if you notice your ankle or foot swelling from over tight sleeves.

Here’s the major players, when it comes to quality knee sleeves:

  • Rehband
  • Titan
  • Tommy Kono
  • Zensah
  • SBD
  • Viper

You should find up to eleven sizes available—starting from 3X Small and going up to 5X Large.  The average range of sizes available is five (small, medium, large, extra-large and extra extra-large) and they have two possible fits: tight and standard.

That means ten alternatives to choose from. Of course, the problem is that these brands do not have one standard protocol for measuring size.  In some cases, it is measured combining three circumferences taken respectively at the calf, ten centimeters above the knee joint and at your thigh.

And then, in some other cases, it is measured as just one reading that is taken exactly at the extended right knee joint.

How To Choose the Right Size Knee Sleeve?

This variation makes it confusing for an average user to find an easy way to get the right fit.  The ideal method of choosing the right size and fit would be to go to the shop and try the sleeves on, sit, flex your knees, and walk and jump?

Even though this may be ideal, it’s not how most of us purchase knee sleeves? Even at department stores, the packages are sealed, and it’s frowned upon to break the packs, and jog through the store?  Besides that, knee sleeves aren’t really that expensive, and it’s easier to order them online.

Key Points For Choosing The Right Knee Sleeve

  • No matter which mode of measurement you follow for size—remember this:  For tightness, the rule of thumb is to find out the smallest possible size which is comfortably tight without its restricting circulation of blood in the area.  It’s important to remember that if you are restricting blood, you could be inducing various complications like varicose veins and DST.

The material the sleeves are made of will usually expand as you use them. Therefore the tightness won’t usually remain the same as the first time you use them.

  • So, here’s the bottom line on knee sleeve tightness:  Snug is what you’re looking for, but only to the extent that there is no pain, loss of blood circulation, and discomfort.

The Verdict on Knee Sleeve Tightness

The fact is that no one can really tell you how tight your knee sleeves should be, other than if they are falling off your leg —  chances are they are too large?

If they are causing weird things to happen with your ankle and foot — take the things off immediately!

You know better than anyone else about tightness and your own comfort and pain levels, so get started and you’ll be proud you did.  Even if you have a sleeve or two to give away before you’re satisfied, I’m telling you, they are worth it when comes to your knees.

Knee sleeves are an important tool for all sorts of knee protection, knee healing, and knee support from a variety of issues. But when it comes to how tight they should be—you are going to have to make your own way in the end.

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