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How to Sleep Comfortably With a Knee Brace On (12 Ways)

Stephanie-Abi-Zeid.
  • This article has been written, researched, and medically reviewed by Stephanie Abi Zeid (Embryologist, Andrologist, B.S, MSc) for maximum factual accuracy.

A knee brace is used after a knee injury or surgery to help stabilize the joint, heal the knee, and alleviate the pain.

First of all, you may be wondering if you can wear a knee support in bed or not.

You can wear a knee support in bed in most cases because it may help with recovery and pain reduction – but always check with your own doctor to ensure that you can sleep in your knee brace all night for your unique condition.

Over the years, I have personally had two keyhole surgeries on my right knee and more knee injuries than I can count from wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu, and lifting weights – so I know just how uncomfortable it is to sleep with a knee brace on.

So how do you sleep better when you have a knee brace on?

To sleep more comfortably with a knee brace on: sleep on your back; elevate the knee with a pillow; apply the RICE protocol; use the correct knee brace (adjust the straps if needed); moisturize the skin; take a warm shower; and/or sleep on a memory foam mattress – use pain medications only as a last resort.

The rest of this article expands upon these points and provides you with 12 actionable strategies that can help you to sleep better with your knee brace on.

However, you should always consult with your doctor, surgeon, or another suitably qualified medical professional to get the best advice for your unique condition.

If you have long-standing knee pain, then I recommend purchasing the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress here (full review) because it has helped me manage my knee pain successfully.

12 Ways to Sleep Better With a Knee Brace On

Follow the 12 tips below to sleep more comfortably with your knee brace on:

1: Sleep On Your Back to Reduce Strain

When wearing your knee brace to bed, it’s best to sleep flat on your back to avoid any strain on your affected knee.  

Sleeping on your back (in the supine position) allows you to extend your affected knee out as straight as is comfortable. 

Research suggests that in general, the supine position is the ideal sleeping position, as it helps maintain the posture of your body.

It also helps improve the blood circulation, which enhances the healing process.

In order to optimize your comfort, you can use a pillow or soft cushion under your calf. 

The slight elevation offered by the pillow under your knee can improve blood circulation, reduce the swelling, and enhance the healing process.

However, if you are not accustomed to sleeping on your back, you may consider sleeping on the side of your unaffected leg.

2: Place a Pillow Under Your Knee to Reduce Pain

When you lie down on your back, place a regular pillow, bolster pillow, knee pillow, or a wedge cushion under your knee to keep it elevated and slightly bent. 

The elevation will promote blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and offer extra cushioning and support to the healing knee. 

Furthermore, placing extra pillows next to your hips can anchor your body and prevent you from rolling over onto your side and twisting your knee. 

Side sleeping can also be achieved with a wedge cushion between your knees to protect, stabilize, and keep the knee and hip in alignment to prevent further injury.

3: Apply the RICE Protocol to Control Discomfort

How to Correctly R.I.C.E. an Injury

RICE stands for ‘Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation’.

Apply the RICE principle before going to bed in order to minimize discomfort, swelling, and pain for better sleep as follows:

3.1: Rest

Try to rest and avoid any unnecessary stress on your knee throughout the day, so that you feel less pain and less discomfort in your affected joint by the time you go to bed.

You can use crutches to avoid putting weight on the injured knee and avoid any form of repetitive or sudden movements that may aggravate the pain and discomfort in the knee.   

3.2: Ice

A great way to relieve pain before bedtime is to apply ice to the affected area. 

Wrap a pack of ice in a cloth and apply it to your knee for about 20 to 30 minutes before sleep. 

Cold therapy can reduce knee inflammation, knee swelling, and cause temporary numbness in the site of injury, which alleviates the pain and helps you sleep better [1].

Some therapists and doctors will recommend alternating heat and ice.

Test this idea out to see if it alleviates your pain, inflammation, or swelling.

If it works, keep heating and icing. 

3.3: Compression

Support the knee (the patella, muscles and ligaments) by applying compression.

Compression forces using a brace, a bandage, or medical support stockings have been shown to significantly help in the reduction of swelling and pain, thus helping you to sleep more comfortably at night.  

Use compression sleeves to support and stabilize the knee without restricting knee mobility. 

However, it is important to make sure that the knee feels comfortable and is not compressed too tightly, as this may cause restriction of blood flow.

3.4: Elevation

Keep your injured knee elevated above the line of your heart with the aid of a few pillows put under your calf when lying down.

The elevation of the injured knee will prevent the development of edema, reduce overall inflammation, and help in pain reduction.

4: Ensure the Knee Brace is Suitable For More Comfort

How to Choose a Knee Brace for Arthritis or Knee Pain- Up to 6XL-Size

It is crucial to select a comfortable knee brace that fits properly around your knee to effectively manage the pain and accelerate the healing process, as follows: 

4.1: Choose the Correct Knee Brace Size

It is essential that your knee brace is the right size and fits you well. 

Therefore, stand up with your leg straight at 45 degrees, and measure the circumference over the kneecap [2]. 

If you are unable to stand up, sit on the edge of a chair with your leg straight out in front of you and your heel on the floor. 

Check the sizing chart and information provided with each knee brace before buying. 

Be mindful about how the brace is applied to your knee. 

Some braces require you to slide it up over your foot and calf, which might require taking extra sizing measurements on your knee, thigh, and calf. 

4.2: Choose the Right Level of Support

When choosing a knee brace, look for the level of support needed (ranging from 1 to 3) based on the type of injury that you have [3] as follows:

  • Level 1 knee braces: this level provides mild to moderate support and compression, whilst offering warmth and pain relief. A knee sleeve is a good example. 
  • Level 2 knee braces: this level provides more protection and pain relief – especially when it comes to ligament instabilities and tendonitis – and allows for a range of movement. Wraparound and knee straps are good examples. 

4.3: Choose the Right Type of Knee Brace

Choosing the right knee brace type depends on whether or not you’re recovering from surgery, the type of injury you have, and how much movement your knee should be getting.

Your doctor or surgeon will likely recommend one of the following types of knee braces:

  • A knee strap: this type of knee brace distributes pressure on the knee joints to relieve pain and stabilize knee posture. 
  • A knee sleeve: this type of brace offers warmth and knee compression for minor strains, and helps reduce swelling and pain but doesn’t increase stability. 
  • Wraparound: this type of brace provides more support than sleeves due to its additional padding that covers the knee and the straps that wrap around the leg.
  • A hinged knee brace: this type of brace increases stability and support, and keeps your knee in a proper alignment when bending to prevent further injuries. 
  • Patellar braces: this type of brace improves patella tracking and adjusts compression at the knee cap to alleviate the pain without restricting knee mobility.

5: Adjust the Straps to Manage the Pressure

When using a knee brace, it should feel comfortable and provide a proper level of support. 

The tightness of the brace must depend on how much movement your knee should be getting.

If you are recovering from knee surgery, your doctor may recommend that you keep things a little tighter.

However, if the brace is uncomfortably tight and you’re losing circulation, then loosen the straps or choose a larger-sized brace.

If the brace is too loose, adjust the straps and make it firm enough, so that even if you toss around at night, it will still hold the knee in place and speed up the recovery process.

6: Moisturize Your Skin to Reduce Chafing

When you wear a knee brace overnight, the material can begin to chafe the skin underneath – causing skin abrasion, itchiness, and discomfort when trying to sleep. 

Therefore, apply a skin moisturizer on your knee areas – as part of your evening routine – to help hydrate, soothe and repair skin dryness. 

Be sure to let the moisturizer absorb entirely before putting the brace back on.

Furthermore, it is important to keep the knee brace clean so it won’t collect sweat and dust and cause skin infections. 

Nowadays, most of the knee braces that are available on the market are machine washable.

Having multiple knee braces on-hand is also a good idea, so you can always replace your knee brace with a clean one to reduce the risk of skin irritation in the same topical places.

7: Allow Your Knee to Breathe to Reduce Overheating

Wearing your knee brace for long hours during sleep can cause overheating and sweating. 

Therefore, sleep on the side of the bed that matches your affected knee to give your leg some room to breathe. 

This will enable you to put your braced knee outside of the bedsheet and maintain good hygiene in your knee areas.  

Additionally, it would be helpful to use lightweight bedding whilst sleeping with a knee brace on because thinner sheets can help you feel less weighted down. 

Choose satin sheets or any other smooth fabric that allow you to twist position easily and less painfully.

Click here to see the best cooling bed sheets to buy now.

8: Perform Doctor-Advised Rehabilitation Exercises

Stop Knee Pain Now! 5 Exercises To Strengthen Your Knees

Tight or weak muscles after a knee injury or operation can cause pain and stiffness, which makes it difficult to sleep.

Patients are generally advised to engage in progressive physical therapy to gradually recover the knee joint with its full range of movement [4].

Light movements and rehab exercises can be uncomfortable at first, but they help improve circulation, reduce inflammation, strengthen the knee joint, and help you on your way to recovery. 

The quicker the inflammatory state of your knee resolves, the easier it will be for you to find comfort at night while sleeping.

Therefore, at the discretion of your doctor, try to slowly practice the following exercises:

8.1: Knee Locking (Knee Extension)

  • Lie on your back or sit with your legs extended horizontally on a bed or a couch. 
  • Put a cushion under the heel of your affected leg and keep your knee extended.
  • Contract your quadriceps muscle to push the knee further down into the bed/couch.
  • Hold for 5 seconds and then relax the muscle. 

8.2: Straight Leg Raises 

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface.
  • Bend your unaffected knee while keeping the foot flat on the surface.
  • Keep your affected knee straight and raise it to the level of your bent knee.
  • Tighten the muscle for 5 seconds then relax.

8.3: Prone Leg Hangs

  • Lie on your stomach with your knees overhanging the edge of the bed.
  • Hang your legs for 2 minutes in a fully extended position.
  • Try to relax and apply pressure as long as it is comfortable to do so.

8.4: Foot Pull Back

  • Sit on a bench or a couch and wrap a towel or an elastic band around the foot of your affected leg.
  • Pull your foot backwards toward your body and slightly raise your heel off to bring your knee into full extension.
  • Hold for 5 seconds then relax.

8.5: Water-Aerobics

Go for a swim as you progress through your rehab so you can move freely without worrying about bearing unnecessary weight on your joint. 

Take it easy and remember that rehabilitating progress should be gradual and guided by the level of pain and swelling in your knee.

9: Take a Warm Shower to Lessen Stiffness

While cold therapy can reduce inflammation and help numb the pain, research has shown that heat treatments are also a great way to treat knee pain and stiffness before sleep.

A warm bath or shower can enhance blood flow, help soothe stiff joints, and relieve unnecessary stress and achy muscles. 

The heat may also improve sleep quality due to the combination of how the body relaxes while bathing and the fall in body temperature afterward.

10: Try Meditation to Reduce Stress

Guided visualisation for joint pains. Meditation for arthritis, joint pain, stiffness or injury.

The pain of the injury can cause stress, which in turn can inhibit sleep and healing. 

Therefore, it is worth taking steps to reduce stress such as practicing mindfulness meditation to calm the mind.

The practice involves breathing methods and focusing on what your body senses in the present. 

It is about focusing your attention slowly on each part of your body, and accepting the nature of the sensations associated with each part of your body – both good and bad – and that they will not last forever.

It is advised to follow a 10-15 minute meditation routine before bedtime to unwind the mind, reduce stress, and induce a night of restful sleep – try putting your earbuds in and listening to the meditation video above.

11: Take Doctor Prescribed Medications (Last Resort)

It is likely that your doctor will recommend that you take some medications before you go to bed to effectively manage the pain in your knee and help you sleep better. 

The most commonly prescribed medications for oral consumption are non-steroidal analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), or naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Consider taking a dietary supplement called glucosamine, which helps improve the joint’s mobility and the healing process [5]. 

Some people might also find relief by rubbing the affected knee with creams containing a numbing agent, such as lidocaine, or capsaicin. 

Depending on your individual case, your doctor may also prescribe you some stronger pain relievers or may inject a steroid in your knee joint to ease your pain and relieve the swelling and stiffness.

Always make sure to contact your health care provider immediately if you experience any allergic reaction or if you notice that your pain either gets worse or fails to subside.

12: Sleep On a Memory Foam Mattress or Topper

Puffy Lux Hybrid Review – Best Mattress For 2021?

An inadequate mattress – being too soft or too firm – can press against your sensitive knees, hips, and shoulders, causing much discomfort and pain when sleeping.

Therefore, consider investing in a pressure-relieving mattress, which cradles and supports your body while being gentle on your pressure points.

A memory foam mattress is a good example of a pressure-relieving mattress, as it helps distribute your weight more evenly across the mattress, provides adequate cushioning and support to your body, and brings great relief from knee pain in bed.

Alternatively, a cheaper way to manage knee pain – with or without a brace – is to buy a memory foam mattress topper.

However, the best way to deal with long-standing pressure-based knee pain issues at night is to buy a new mattress that suits your sleeping style and body type.

I personally recommend the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress to help manage knee pain because the memory foam wraps around my knee joints and muscles to reduce the pressure, whilst the springs underneath keep my knee in good posture.

Click here to read my first-hand Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress review and save $300 now.

Conclusion: Try Several Strategies

The best way to get to sleep with a knee brace on is to use a combination of techniques: sleeping on a memory foam mattress, sleeping on your back, elevating the knee with a pillow, applying the RICE protocol, and using the correct knee brace are the most effective strategies.

If you’d like to buy a new mattress to help with your knee pain then I personally recommend the Puffy Lux Hybrid – click the button below to read my full review and save $300 now.


Sources and References

[1] Caporuscio, Jessica. “What are the benefits of cold and hot showers?” Medical News Today, 2020, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327461. Accessed 20th May 2021.

[2] Power Rebound. “How To Measure For A Knee Brace.” Power Rebound, https://www.powerrebound.com/blogs/kneebible/how-to-measure-for-a-knee-brace. Accessed 20th May 2021.

[3] McDavid USA. “How to Choose the Right Knee brace.” Mc David, 2020, https://www.mcdavidusa.com/blogs/posts/how-to-choose-the-right-knee-brace#:~:text=When%20choosing%20a%20knee%20brace,support%20when%20remaining%20fully%20active Accessed 20th May 2021.

[4] WebMD. “8 Exercises to Help Your Knees.” WebMD, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/injury-knee-pain-16/slideshow-knee-exercises. Accessed 20th May 2021.

[5] WebMD. “Is Glucosamine Good for Joint Pain?” WebMD, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/supplement-guide-glucosamine. Accessed 20th May 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this website offers medical advice – always consult with a qualified medical professional for such guidance.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Woman Sitting at Clinic With Knee Brace’ by LightFieldStudios (Getty Images Pro) used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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