Most people interested in fitness, training, and first aid are familiar with the mnemonic R.I.C.E. to treat injury. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The abbreviation to remember the treatment protocol has been around since 1978, when a fitness guru and sports medicine doctor, Gabe Mirkin, coined the term in a best-selling book. Since then, Dr. Mirkin has qualified this advice concerning the ice component. Although it can mitigate the pain immediately after an injury, ice can actually delay the healing, so it must be used carefully.
However, both rest and compression are still key elements for helping the body repair and the knee rest and providing compression to the area. This article will offer insight into when wrapping a knee is appropriate and how to do it correctly.
How to Wrap Your Knee
Select an elastic bandage. You don’t need a special compression bandage for the knee to treat a knee injury, just a regular elastic bandage. You can use either the type with separate clips to close it or one with a Velcro-type closure.
- Begin wrapping below the knee, around the leg at mid-calf level, encircling once or twice to anchor the bandage.
- About the third time you pass behind the knee, continue to wrap the bandage to the front but bring it diagonally from behind the knee in back to over the knee as you come to the front.
- Continue wrapping the bandage behind the leg above the knee for one complete circle to anchor the top.
- When you pass the bandage behind the knee for the second pass, wrap the bandage diagonally downwards below the knee, and circle the leg below the knee one full wrap.
- When you bring it to the front again, bring the bandage over the knee a second time, essentially making a figure 8.
- Finish wrapping around the knee several times above the knee and secure the bandage with provided clips or by smoothing down the end with a self-adhesive bandage.
This is actually very simple to do, as seen in this quick, how to wrap knee with ace bandage video.
Some Notes on Compression
Compression helps reduce the swelling that results from inflammation after injury. Providing compression will alleviate the pain that comes with swelling, but the bandage’s fit should not be too tight to enable the blood to circulate. Besides elastic bandages, compression knee sleeves are a viable option to manage swelling. They don’t provide the custom fit that wrapped bandages can offer, but they are quick to use if compression is desired.
There are many knee compression wrap combinations besides the elastic Ace bandage type and sleeves that are hybrid devices. Some have an open patellar region, and others are closed, and they operate by pump, or closure by straps, and can include a variety of hot and cold by various means such as gel packs and other technology.
There are other knee wraps for pain management if you are looking to treat recurring pain in the knee. For example, some people suffering from arthritis, tendinitis, or runner’s knee may find a device like a heated knee therapy wrap helpful, where compression is not sought.
Opt for the reusable elastic bandages that can be repeatedly used and closed (with either clips or hook-and-loop closures) instead of self-adhesive ones. This will allow you to use the same bandage in the future and reposition it occasionally.
Conduct your own research if you’re planning to wear any type of compression bandage for knee issues on an ongoing basis. Read multiple reviews, looking for the conditions that users found the product helpful and where it fell short. For example, you may be okay using an inexpensive drugstore version occasionally, but they may run small or not be appropriate for use while walking.
Use compression and rest as indicated. Also, learn about other newer theories and associated terms, like M.I.C.E. (recommending MOVEMENT instead of rest) and M.E.A.T. (Movement, Exercise, Analgesics, and Treatment).
Don’t try to wrap your knee with an elastic bandage to try to prevent injury or re-injury. An Ace-type bandage doesn’t provide support but instead provides compression. For support to avoid knee injury, you want a different type of knee protection device.
Don’t sleep with a knee wrapped for compression unless advised to do so by a physician.
Additional Resources for Knee Injury Treatment
Virginia Tech’s Health Center provides access to a PDF with some rehabilitation exercises and resuming activity tests.
Another option for runners and other active individuals is to look into kinesiology tape, which is becoming increasingly popular for various body parts. Unlike other wraps, it’s meant to stay in place for several days during activity and sticks to the skin to help the body’s lymphatic system regulate swelling and fluid buildup in the area of concern. If you want to learn how to use this tape to protect the knee against high body weight and prevent a runner’s knee, see this how-to-wrap knee video.
If you have a knee injury, you should probably have it examined, rather than just treating it yourself at home. A physician’s assistant or physical therapist can demonstrate the proper way to wrap a knee, and if the injury is severe, it warrants medical care. However, if you are an athlete or looking for some support, having a good elastic bandage in your first aid kit or gym bag and knowing how to wrap a knee is a helpful practice.