Knee pads are protective padding devices that are designed to safeguard against impact and to cushion your knees while they are bearing your body weight. To be effective, a knee pad must remain firmly in its intended position while in use.
Knee pads are worn by athletes in many sports in order to cushion the knees from blows due to falling or collisions. These sports may include rollerblading, skateboarding, volleyball, cricket and many others.
They are also recommended for use in occupations that require extended kneeling or crawling on hands and knees in constricted areas. Such occupations may include construction, painting and even gardening.
People who spend extensive periods with their knees on the ground bearing body weight can increase their exposure to injuries like knee bursitis if they do not use knee pads. They are also at risk of serious long term medical conditions such as knee osteoarthritis that may eventually lead to the need for knee replacement. By reducing the risk of undergoing major expensive and disruptive surgery like a knee replacement, knee pads can prove to be an extremely cost effective investment in knee health.
Many situations and/or sports that require the use of knee pads also call for wearing elbow pads as a similar form of protection for the elbows.
How Do Knee Pads Work?
Knee pads improve safety in several ways:
They reduce the impact felt by the knees from a fall, especially when falling directly onto the knees. In doing so, they protect the kneecap (the patella) from injuries such as fractures;
They improve the worker’s confidence about his or her safety and allow him or her to focus on the job without distraction;
They make for more comfortable working conditions, especially for workers whose jobs require them to spend extended periods on their knees. This would include jobs such as carpet laying, gardening, roofing, tiling, etc.
In addition to improving the comfort level of workers who have to spend long periods on their knees, knee pads reduce wear and tear damage to the bones of the knee. Prolonged kneeling can cause deterioration of the cartilage that acts as a cushion to the bone ends in the knee. The deterioration of this cartilage increases the risk of knee osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis that affects the knee;
Knee pads do not only help to reduce wear and tear on the kneecap patella after kneeling for long periods. They will also reduce the risk that the knee may be penetrated by a sharp object
Are Knee Pads Effective In Preventing Injuries?
Since knee pads are in such widespread use as injury prevention devices, it is useful to look at the data that confirms or contradicts their effectiveness in this role.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported there was an increase in the risk of knee injury among those not wearing knee pads. The crude odds ratio for those wearing these pads compared to those who were not was 2.2. This meant that a crude estimate of the ratio of the probability of injury among those not wearing knee pads compared to those who were wearing them was 2.2.
However, the 95% confidence interval for this ratio had a range of 0.7 to 7.2. Since the lower end of this interval was below 1, the increase in the risk of injury could not be regarded as statistically significant.
2019 Nature Study
However, another study reported in 2019 by Michael Schwarze in Nature journal produced more significant (in a statistical sense) results. This study looked at the injuries resulting from the impacts on the knees consistent with a fall. It used eight cadaveric human knee specimens in order to be able to simulate high impact injuries without exposing live participants to pain and major injury, including the risk of fracture.
The study reported a 56% reduction in the rate of knee injuries as a result of the use of a knee pad. Among other benefits, the study concluded that knee pads were effective in reducing the risk of major injuries in the event of a fall.
Choosing The Right Knee Pad
Most knee pad sizes are based on the knee circumference. Be sure to take this measurement carefully before choosing the size that you need.
Once you have put the pad on, check that you have a snug fit. This means that the knee pad should be as tight as possible without becoming painful or uncomfortable. Make sure that there is no loss of feeling in or near the knee, as that may be an indication that the knee pad is interfering with your circulation.
When Should Knee Pads Be Worn?
Although it may be tempting to wear the pads all day long, this is not necessarily beneficial. Sometimes, knee pads can inhibit blood circulation if worn for too long a period. Therefore, it may be better to wear the pads only while kneeling or performing an activity that introduces a risk of falling (e.g. playing a sport). In other situations, they should probably not be worn.
Another risk of excessive knee pad wear is that of a decrease in knee strength due to atrophy of knee muscles. This weakening can itself increase the risk of injuries such as knee sprains or strains.
Should Knee Pads Be Worn To Bed?
As mentioned above, excessive use of knee pads may interfere with blood circulation and/or cause atrophy of knee muscles. So knee pad use should be restricted to those occasions when there is a risk of trauma to the knees or when the body weight will be borne by the knees for a long period.
We would therefore recommend against wearing your knee pads to bed unless, of course, you have been advised to do so by your health care advisor.