Over the past year, I’ve worked hard to get my body into shape, both physically and medically. I progressively increased my workload at the gym and out on the trail. I increased my endurance, my strength, and my enjoyment at the same time. I expected to be limited by my strength. Instead, I was limited by my knee pain.
I created a small tear in my left meniscus—a crescent-shaped fibrocartilaginous ligament around/behind the kneecap—on the second day of my 30-mile Art Loeb Trail thru-hike. I’ve had a little knee pain before, but this was bad. I couldn’t sleep that night because of the extreme pain. I had to save my last 4 ibuprofen pills for the morning so I could drag myself 8 more miles to my car.
I thought the pain was due to the mileage and elevation changes along the trail. Over the course of the next two weeks, the pain mostly went away. A month later, I hiked 62 miles of the Foothills Trail over the course of 4 days. By the 3rd day, I could barely walk. I was not enjoying myself. I was a prisoner to my pain.
I brought up my knee pain at a routine appointment with my doctor. She asked a few questions and immediately confirmed my suspicions. I’ll spare you the details about the rigamarole I endured with my insurance company, but part of the path to an MRI scan was to try wearing a compression sleeve for a while.
I bought the Ultra Flex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve because it was cheap on Amazon and had glowing reviews. It was the best purchase I’ve made in years.
This thing actually works! I really couldn’t believe how effective it was at first. I could tell that the affected area was strained, but that strain never morphed into pain. I started wearing it to the gym, on the trail, and basically any time I felt like I would spend a lot of time on my feet.
My first big test of the sleeve was when I hiked the gorge at Raven Cliff Falls. I crushed the 7½-mile loop in a little under 3 hours with a long break at the suspension bridge. I was really flying.
This image must be reversed; the sleeve was on my left knee.
I felt so good that I got up early the next morning and did the 8-mile Pinnacle Pass/Rim Of The Gap loop at Jones Gap State Park. That was the hardest climb I had done since the Coosa Backcountry Trail and I knocked it out by lunchtime.
Both of my knees are bothered by ascents/descents, but the pain in my right knee has never come close to the pain in my left knee. Still, I eventually bought a second compression sleeve because why the hell not?
I tested both sleeves out at Tallulah Gorge. The climb out of there was very steep and my knees didn’t hurt at all. Like I said before, there was some tension and strain in the joints, but no real pain.
I recently wore these sleeves on a 32-mile loop hike through the Cataloochee Valley. This was the first time in the past few months where I felt fatigue in my legs. That fatigue must have always been there, but it was overshadowed by my knee pain until I started wearing these sleeves.
- This compression sleeve is cheap and effective, which means it fits nicely into the gear nexus.
- It’s not one-size-fits-all. There are sizes. I wear a medium.
- It’s easy to clean. I just toss it in the wash every so often and then allow it to air dry.
- The sleeve bunches and has to be readjusted throughout the day. It still works, but it’s less comfortable. I might not pick this particular product if I was wearing it under pants all the time.
- My first sleeve has stretched a little. I just wear it on my right knee now. I’ll update this post after a significant amount of time to see if that becomes a problem.
Check it out
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I ran into two unassociated people wearing these same knee sleeves on the John Muir Trail in 2017. We stopped and talked about how effective they were.