The Ultimate Buyer's Guide to Volleyball Knee Pads
Volleyball is a high-energy game, just as fun to watch as it is to play. From the first serve to the last game-winning spike, it’s nonstop movement for both the ball and the players, making for kinetic, dramatic play that can dazzle and delight. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a grass field, a sandy beach, or an indoor court — it’s going to involve lots of explosive, crowd-pleasing action.
If you’re a volleyball player, though, you know that there’s a cost to all this sudden and swift movement. From scrambling to get into position for a set or diving for a game-saving dig to jumping for a block or a spike, you’re in constant motion, and that means a lot of wear and tear on your body. You’ve got to be able to turn on a dime in order to react to the direction of the ball at all time, and there’s a cost associated with twisting your body into knots for an entire game. In fact, knee injuries are all too common with volleyball as a result, and even the best and fittest player can end up benched with an injury.
But don’t worry! Whether you’re an amateur volleyball player or a professional one, there are ways to help prevent these types of sports injuries (and to help your body heal from them safely). Volleyball knee pads are the answer, as they offer the protection and support you need to keep your knee safe from injury. There’s a reason you see all the pros wearing knee protection whenever they’re on the court! All knee pads aren’t created equal, of course; knee pads that are good for one person might not be helpful for another based on the position they play or their personal playstyle. That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate buyer’s guide for volleyball knee pads. Let’s get started!
Should You Even Wear Volleyball Knee Pads?
So let’s get right down to it: as a volleyball player, you don’t have to wear knee pads if you don’t feel as if they would be an appropriate choice for you. In fact, many athletes make that decision, and they go on to have perfectly fine experiences on the court without having the extra padding and protection that a volleyball knee pad provides. This is often the case with younger players with high levels of physical fitness, but the truth is that just because you’re young and in good shape doesn’t mean you’re immune from the types of injuries that knee pads are supposed to protect you from. That being said, the young and fit are generally more resilient and less in need of a knee pad in general in many cases, though this isn’t universal.
These circumstances change if you’ve got a few miles on your engine, though. Older folk in their 30s and beyond have experienced more wear and tear on their bodies in general, and as the knee is one of the most important major joints that’s almost always active in one form or another, the chance for injury is a bit higher. If you’re trying to stay active as you get older, wearing a volleyball knee pad is an excellent idea to provide those joints with the extra support and safety they need to prevent knee injuries. The last thing you want to do is to suffer a bad blowout that could have been prevented if you had been wearing a knee pad, after all!
Finally, if you’ve already suffered a knee injury in the past or you’re on the road to recovery after a surgery to correct a knee problem, wearing a knee pad becomes less of an option and more of a requirement. At this point, your knee joint needs that extra bit of padding to minimize the effects of that injury and to provide it with the support it needs to heal up as well as possible. In these cases, a knee pad is what helps you get off the bench and back into the action, though you may need to take it easier than you did in your younger days. Either way, in this case, choosing not to wear a knee pad is probably the worst decision you can make when it comes to keeping your joints happy and healthy.
In other words, if you’re asking if you need to wear a knee pad, the answer is not always. A better question, though, is whether you should wear a knee pad anyway, even if you don’t “need” one. Still not convinced? Let’s talk about the types of injuries you can suffer from without the proper safety gear.
More About Knee Injuries
Before we get into the specifics on volleyball knee pads, we need to take a moment to understand the types of knee injuries that are most common when it comes to volleyball players. This is important because it has a direct impact on the types of knee support that are best to protect against these injuries or to help them heal after the fact. The truth is that volleyball injuries are very common, with as many as 180,000 combined injuries treated every year according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Many of these are knee injuries, though it’s true there are other types of injuries you can suffer while on the court as well.
One of the most common knee injuries for volleyball players to suffer from is damage to the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. This ligament is crucial in stabilizing your knee joint, and damage to the ACL can be both painful and debilitating as a result. And not just for volleyball players, either; a torn ACL is a common injury among many professional sports players of all types, especially those that need to twist or change directions quickly due to action on the court. Once upon a time, an ACL injury was enough to bench an athlete permanently, but today sports medicine has advanced to the point where it’s no longer a career-ending injury. That being said, recovery and rehabilitation from a torn ACL will leave you more prone to injury in the future, requiring you to take special steps to protect your knee through the use of a pad or a brace.
The other common volleyball-related knee injury is known as patellar tendonitis. Sometimes called “jumper’s knee”, this condition involves inflammation to the tendon that connects your patella, or kneecap, to your lower leg. As the name implies, it’s caused by repeated stress as a result of excessive jumping, especially on hard surfaces. Untreated jumper’s knee can lead to your patellar tendon becoming torn, which is nearly as debilitating as an ACL injury. With the amount of jumping involved in volleyball, especially players who practice or compete on hard indoor courts, there’s no surprise that this injury is so common; with the propensity for more active volleyball players in certain positions to go in for a slide or a dive, this can make jumper’s knee even worse — another good reason to have knee pads on to cushion the impact!
Protecting Your Knees the Best Way You Can
At this point, it should be crystal clear that your knees can take the biggest beating when you’re playing volleyball. Between damage to your ACL from changing direction in a scramble to dig or set a volley and risking jumper’s knee from repeatedly jumping to spike or block at the net, you’re subjecting your knees to some real stress and trauma with just about every game, more so if you’re especially active. This makes protecting your knees a priority so you can avoid making an old knee injury worse or even coming down with painful, debilitating knee injuries in the first place!
This means, of course, that your best bet will be to have good knee protection at your disposal in the form of knee pads. Not just any pads will do, though; no, you need ones that are specifically designed for the types of conditions you’re most likely going to experience while playing volleyball. They need to have the right type of padding to allow them to take the shock of hitting the ground repeatedly without transferring that shock to your knee, made from the proper materials to provide high levels of compression to support your knee and keep it in place if you twist suddenly, and offer high levels of protection without impeding your movement or creating any discomfort.
Why is comfort and ease of wear so important? It’s for the very same reason that you need high levels of protection to begin with: a volleyball game is highly kinetic and players can be out on that court moving like lightning and pushing their bodies hard and fast. In some cases, you might be out there for nearly an hour at a time, providing you lots of opportunities to work up a good sweat. After you’ve been roasting under the lights — or worse, out in the sun on the beach — even the most lightweight knee pad could end up feeling like a lead weight, to say nothing about a thick and cumbersome one. That’s why the best volleyball knee pads are flexible, breathable, and offer as much protection as possible without making them uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Deeper into Volleyball Knee Pad Construction
Let’s take a deeper dive into what goes into the best volleyball knee pads, shall we? As we mentioned above, there are three main ingredients that go into a knee pad: the type of padding used, the type of material that goes into the shell or wrap, and the design of the overall knee pad in regard to comfort and wearability. Let’s examine each of these in turn so it becomes clear how they come together to make the best volleyball knee pads for you.
The majority of knee pads are designed to cushion the front of the knee in order to absorb or distribute stress placed on it. The type of padding used to create this cushion and the location of this padding will differ from one knee pad to the next, though there are a number of standard approaches that most manufacturers take. For volleyball players that are constantly subjecting their knees to a hard court floor during digs and dives, this means padding needs to be reactive and shock absorbent, making memory foam or other types of high-density foam that can provide a high level of shock protection a good candidate for padding.
Shell or Wrap Materials
There are a number of different materials that the shell or wrap of the knee pad can be constructed from. These include mesh, cotton, or other fabrics, and they serve the obvious purpose of holding the padding of the knee pad in place so that it’s positioned properly over the knee to keep it in place during high levels of activity. The most useful wraps or shells also provide an additional benefit in that they provide compression to the entirety of the knee, and a snug-fitting knee pad keeps volleyball players from overextending their knee joints while on the court by pushing back against possibly dangerous movements like twisting motions. If a shell or wrap doesn’t provide enough compression, it won’t be as effective.
The thickest, most well-padded knee pad isn’t always the best choice for athletes. There’s a constant trade-off that needs to be made between providing protection and support for your knee joint and being able to still compete at your peak performance, and that means bulky, ill-fitting kneepads made with non-breathable fabric shells or wraps become a liability after an extended period of time on the court. As a result, many athletes will choose a lightweight knee pad that provides only minimal protection in exchange for comfort and wearability. Yet wearing too little protection is just as bad or perhaps even worse than wearing too much protection, as you could end up sacrificing your health and safety for the sake of on-court performance. This is why finding a good balance between protection and wearability is so important.
Choosing the Best Volleyball Knee Pads For You
Now that you have an idea of what goes into the best knee pads for volleyball players, it will be easier to choose a style that provides you optimal levels of support and protection without compromising your ability to compete or to wear the knee pad for long periods of time. There’s no hard and fast rule in this case, as everyone’s bodies are different and they can tolerate different types of experiences in various ways. A knee pad that might work perfectly well for your teammate might be too restrictive for you, not offer enough protective padding, or not have enough compression support for your liking.
This means the process of choosing a good volleyball knee pad involves a good bit of trial and error. However, there are some ways to make this choice go more smoothly. The most important of these is to ensure you’re testing knee pads that are sized correctly for your body. This means not just selecting a properly sized pad but also knowing how to measure your own leg and knee dimensions so that you are using accurate numbers.
This sizing process isn’t difficult, but it does require you to follow a few steps in order to ensure you get measurements that you can rely on when it comes to selecting knee pads to try for fit. Here’s what you need to know about sizing your own knee and how that relates to choosing proper knee pads by size as well.
Using the Right Tools
Your body isn’t flat. This means you can’t use a ruler or even a tape measure to get accurate readings when it comes to the contours of your knee and leg. Most knee pads are sized by circumference, so you need something flexible and accurate like a tailor’s measuring tape. If you don’t have one of those, you can use a piece of rope, string, or even a phone charging cord, wrap it around your leg, and then measure it against a straight ruler to get an accurate enough reading.
How and Where to Measure
The majority of volleyball knee pads are sized according to two or three measurements: the size of your upper leg, the size of your lower leg, and the size of your knee joint itself. You can take these measurements by starting at your knee and counting off six inches up your thigh and taking the upper leg measurement there. Then, return to your knee, measure six inches down your lower leg, and get the second measurement. Finally, get the circumference of your knee itself by starting at the widest part of your kneecap. Record these numbers, as you’ll need them for the next step.
Translating Those Numbers Into Sizes
Now comes perhaps the most difficult part: taking those measurements you just recorded and translating them into knee pad sizes. Unfortunately, no knee pad will match your size exactly, as they’re not made with the kind of specificity you’d see in, say, shoe sizes. Instead, each manufacturer decides on a range of sizes for their products, assigning certain measurements to small, medium, large, or extra-large. You’ll need to find the size that’s appropriate for your leg within these categories. If you overlap two sizes, it’s generally considered a good idea to go with one size down unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer, as a snug fit is better than a loose one.
Wearing and Maintaining Your Volleyball Knee Pads
Now that you’ve selected the best volleyball knee pads for you, it’s time to talk about how to wear them to protect yourself properly and how to keep them in good shape so that they can continue to protect your knees for seasons to come. If, upon first putting your knee pads on, they seem as if they are much too tight, don’t panic! Much like a new pair of shoes, there’s a bit of a “breaking in” period for new knee pads. You need to give them a chance to adjust to your body, something that can easily be accomplished after just a few practice sessions.
However, if you feel your volleyball knee pads are still too tight or uncomfortable after that, don’t give up hope! There are plenty of methods to give yourself a little extra space without having to go back and purchase the next size up. One method is to wrap your pads around your volleyball shoes, or any other similarly large object, overnight. This will often stretch them out enough to provide you a little extra breathing room. At this point, you can try them back on to see if this method worked.
Once you’ve gotten those volleyball knee pads broken in properly, it’s time to think about maintenance. While most volleyball knee pads aren’t particularly expensive, you aren’t likely to want to go through that breaking-in period again so soon, so making sure you get lots of use out of your knee pads becomes a priority. Since there’s little to be done about normal wear and tear, maintenance mostly comes down to cleaning and washing your volleyball knee pads regularly.
How to Wash and Clean Your Knee Pads
Washing and cleaning volleyball knee pads require a somewhat different approach than you might take to other types of clothing or athletics gear. While you might be able to simply toss your volleyball jersey in the washer with the rest of your workout clothes, you may need to check to see if you need to remove any parts of your knee pad that aren’t washable, as some pads have specialized foam padding that can’t be washed and are designed to be removable.
At this point, it’s generally safe to wash your volleyball knee pads in a washing machine and to also dry them in the dryer. You may need to take precautions during drying, however, as using high heat can result in some shrinking. This means that your knee pad might be a bit tight for the next time you wear it until it stretches back out. If you’re worried this might interfere with your performance, it’s recommended to wash your knee pads before your next practice, not your next game.
As an alternative, you can opt for not using high heat to dry your knee pads. However, be warned that this may not be enough to sterilize your knee pads, which could lead to them harboring some particularly nasty bacteria, which can contribute to some rather unpleasant smells. If you are dealing with especially fragrant knee pads, however, you can place them in your freezer overnight. The intense cold usually kills off the worst of these bacteria, leaving your knee pads smelling much fresher than they would otherwise. Just make sure you let them warm up before putting them back on — and remove any specialized foam inserts that won’t tolerate the cold temperatures!
Wrapping Up the Discussion on Volleyball Knee Pads
When it comes to keeping you on the court and in the action, volleyball knee pads are just part of the equation. Granted they’re a big part, but there’s plenty that goes into being a successful volleyball athlete. You also need other quality equipment such as well-fitting volleyball shoes as well, as this will also serve to protect your body and provide you the performance you need to excel. This is the same whether you’re a professional, an amateur, or anywhere in between, as any steps that you take to protect yourself from injury will make you a better player, one that can spend more time on the court than on the bench icing a swollen knee or a turned ankle after a botched dig.
At the same time, not every volleyball player may feel the need for knee pads as much as another. The needs of a wing spiker or an attacker are going to be different from a setter, a middle blocker, or a libero, after all. Additionally, it also depends on your personal play style. If you have a highly kinetic style that has you going all out no matter what, you’re going to be a good candidate for some sturdy knee pads in comparison to a teammate that plays more conservatively with what they’re willing to do to their body.
In the end, however, you lose little to nothing from wearing a good set of knee pads. As long as you’ve measured your leg and knee circumference properly, used those measurements to select a knee pad in an appropriate size with the type of support and padding you need, and you care for that knee pad properly to keep it well maintained (and, hopefully, not smelling like the inside of a gym locker!) and you’ll be in good shape. Not only that, but you’ll be protecting your knee from harm. Not every serve is always going to be an ace, so make sure you’re set for the next volley with quality volleyball knee pads!