David Boyd is the public affairs officer at White River National Forest in Colorado. Previously he was a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado…and a park range with the National Park Service.
Answer: I sometimes tell patients to apply any kind of sleeve or brace because it has a proprioceptive effect. That refers to your brain’s ability to sense where your bones, joints and muscles are—even without looking—and take steps to control their function and position.
In other words, the presence of something around the knee—even a piece of duct tape or Kinesio Tape, a type of therapeutic elastic adhesive tape that can be worn for extended periods of time—can actually send more sensory information to the brain, making it more aware of the extremity. Then the brain can send subconscious, corrective impulses down to that extremity—in essence, increasing awareness of the affected part so that your body unconsciously adjusts muscles and joints to accommodate them as you move about.
I often give the example of a pinky toe. You might think your pinky toe is just sitting there limp, resting inside your shoe. But it’s not. Your brain is subconsciously putting it there. It’s not sticking it up in the air. It’s not shoving it down into the sole of your shoe. Now, tell your brain to stick the pinky up in the air. That’s not proprioception. That’s your conscious brain directing your toe to go there. But let’s say you have a blister on your pinky. Now you’re not going to walk around all day saying “Brain! Bend my toe down away from my shoe.” Instead, proprioception will eventually take over. The leather on your shoe will act as a messenger to your brain, much as a brace might for your knee, and your wonderful brain will guide that toe away from the abrasive leather.
Proprioception is one reason why a lot of folks with arthritis like the feel of having a sleeve or brace on their knee or anywhere on the body for that matter, such as an ankle sleeve. It’s why athletes like to use compression braces and sleeves, tight clothing and Kinesio Tape.
Wearing a compression brace will not directly prevent your knee from twisting in a way that might injure it. But it may help your brain’s awareness of your body in space so that you might avoid moves that could cause further injury and pain.
While compression garments and wraps have no potential to cure disorders of bones and joints for those suffering with arthritis or patients with injuries, they just seem to feel better. That’s a good enough reason, if you want to try one of these garments or Kinesio Tape—or even an Ace bandage. See if it helps. And yes, you could even try duct tape, a kind of primitive version of Kinesio Tape. It might work quite nicely—although it’s going to hurt like hell and give you a waxing when you take it off!