ACL. MCL. LCL. If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably had at least one of those acronyms turn your fantasy football team into a hot mess. But off the gridiron, knee injuries are impacting thousands of tradesmen and women, as they experience firsthand how a knee injury degrades productivity, quality of life and earning power.
WHAT CAUSES KNEE PAIN AND INJURIES?
Knee injuries on the job are fairly common among all occupations and account for 5% of all work-related injuries that result in a trip to the emergency room. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 workers suffer from knee injuries on the job each year. Knee injuries rank right behind back injuries as the most commonly injured body part in the workplace. The most common workplace injuries that result in knee problems are from falls, overexertion and objects striking the knee. Overexertion covers injuries including wear due to repetitive motion, strain while lifting or injuries that occur from sudden movements. These types of knee injuries may or may not require surgical intervention to correct. Knee surgeries in general can be costly, with a total knee replacement coming in around $49,500.
Common knee injuries symptoms related to overexertion or kneeling too long:
- Swelling or stiffness in the knee
- Redness/skin is warm to the touch
- Weakness or instability when standing
- Inability to fully lengthen your knee
- Crunching or popping in the knee (consistently - a pop here or there as you kneel isn’t generally a cause for alarm)
Knee injuries or overexertion are also cause for lost work time. A simple strain or sprain can last from one to two weeks, while more extensive injuries requiring surgery can have you on light duty for one to three months. Depending on the severity of your injury or the seriousness of the surgical procedure required, you may be dealing with healing time of up to a year. Granted, you may not be laying around with your feet up for a full year, but your knees may not be back to their former full strength during that recovery time, affecting how you walk and how you work.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT KNEE PADS, KNEE INJURY PREVENTION AND HOW TO REDUCE KNEE PAIN AT WORK
Making sure you have the right knee protection for the job is a step in the right direction towards keeping you and your knees safe from injury. Obviously, not all knee injuries can be prevented by knee pads, but if you’re in a job that requires you to work on your knees, having the right protective equipment can make all the difference. People who work in flooring or tiling might have different knee pad needs than someone who is on their knees less frequently, so we’ll break it down into various industries and which safety knee pads are the best for that kind of work. Learn more about solutions for preventing and mitigating knee damage here >>>
Knee Pad Basics
Before we go into specific job types, there are some things that will hold true no matter what you’re doing. Make sure to try on your knee pads and actually kneel in them before you take them to the job site. Not all knee pads are created equal!
Quick Tips: What to Look for in a Knee Pad
- Make sure the straps aren’t too short or too long, but long enough to accommodate fitting over your work pants or cold-weather gear.
- Ensure that as you move around, there is nothing that pinches or feels too tight or irritating - if they’re not comfortable, you’re not going to wear them.
- Look for knee pads that fit the shape of your knee; knee pads that are too rigid/inflexible won’t be comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
- Make sure you don’t walk out of your knee pads when walking or crawl out of them when you’re kneeling.
Traditional foam padding in knee pads can break down with frequent use, or become compressed to the point where the padding is so thin, it’s not doing much padding anymore. Knee pads with injected gel padding are an excellent choice since gel retains its shape all day and will not compress over time. Gel is a bit heavier than foam, so some workers prefer a more lightweight option, like a gel-foam combination for the best of both worlds. And some workers who use their knee pads more infrequently might be able to get away with a lighter foam padding.
SO WHAT KNEE PADS ARE BEST FOR ME?
With knee pads for work, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution as to the style that will fit you best. We looked at seven popular trades and came up with the best knee pads for the job.
FLOORING KNEE PADS
What to look for: Non-marring rubber cap for delicate surfaces. Slip-resistant rubber cap for stability and protection on slick, non-delicate surfaces.
If you work with flooring in any capacity, whether it’s carpet, hardwood, laminate, vinyl, or linoleum, you spend a LOT of time on your knees. So having the right knee pads is going to make a huge difference in your work-day comfort.
Some flooring jobs (think hardwood installation or similar delicate surfaces) will need non-marring knee pads. These are knee pads with a rubber cap that is made specifically for kneeling on delicate surfaces, and will not mark up or otherwise damage the floor. You can also choose knee pads with regular or slip-resistant caps. The regular hard cap will allow you to pivot and slide, and a slip-resistant cap will give you more stability and grip. Which style you choose largely comes down to personal preference and how you like to move when you’re kneeling.
TILING KNEE PADS
What to look for: Non-marring rubber cap for delicate surfaces. Stability gel cap for slick surfaces.
Tile work requires you to be on your knees frequently. Even if you’re not laying tile flooring, you’re still pretty likely to end up kneeling at some point. Tilers need some of the same protection as those who work in flooring.
Like workers who install other types of flooring, a non-marring cap will help protect delicate tile from being scuffed or damaged. But if the work you’re doing doesn’t require such a soft touch, you’ve got some options as to cap style. If you’re going to be on your knees for an extended period of time, a gel cap will offer grip, comfort and stability to keep you in place and supported.
If you’re kneeling on a tiled floor, a non-slip cap, soft cap or a grippy stability gel cap will keep you in one place while you work, avoiding any accidental splits if your knee pads end up scooting out from under you.
AIRLINE AND BAGGAGE HANDLING KNEE PADS
What to look for: Hinged design to prevent walking or crawling out of knee pad.
Recommended: ProFlex® Comfort Hinged Gel Knee Pads, ProFlex® 450 Comfort Hinged™ Soft Cap Gel Knee Pads for more stability
Baggage handlers spend countless hours in the belly of an aircraft moving luggage so your stuff gets where it’s gotta go. These pros know that all that crouching, kneeling and maneuvering in the tight confines of a cargo hold puts a strain on their knees and their knee pads. A hinged knee pad design moves and flexes with the worker, while also preventing knees from “walking” or “crawling” out of the knee pads. Additionally, the hinged design features a top strap that is typically located higher on the thigh, which keeps it out of the back of the knee for greater comfort and less irritation.
A short round hard cap will allow for greatest mobility while kneeling, allowing for workers to turn, pivot and slide on their knees without having to stand upright in order to move. A longer hard cap will also allow for pivoting and sliding but with a little more overall knee protection against the ground. Though, for those willing to sacrifice a bit of mobility for stability (especially older workers), a slip-resistant cap would be a good option.
Since baggage handlers aren’t typically kneeling on gravel or rocks like their counterparts in construction might, they can also use a soft cap. A soft cap is less slick than a hard cap but still allows for some movement and stability. Soft caps tend to weigh less as well for a little less bulk, and a little more comfort.
CONSTRUCTION KNEE PADS
What to look for: Highly dependent on personal preference and types of surfaces. A short, round hard cap is great for pivoting and sliding on your knees. A long textured hard cap or a gel cap will offer more stability and anti-slip protection.
Hard work deserves tough protection. If you’re spending your days crawling around on gravel, brick, concrete, wood and other rough surfaces, your unprotected patella is going to take a pounding without the right protection in place.
The cap style you go with is going to largely depend on personal preference and how you like to move. A short, rounded hard cap will allow you to pivot, rock, swivel and slide. A long, textured hard cap will offer protection over a larger area while also providing the same mobility as a short cap - which one you pick will depend on your preference and how much armor your knees need.
A slip-resistant rubber cap is great for work in wet or dry areas. The slip-resistant feature will allow you to rock and lean without slipping. A gel cap works in these types of applications as well and is ideal for jobs where you’re spending most of your time kneeling.
Hinged knee pads are a great option if you work in construction. They’ll move and flex with your knee so when you’re walking around the jobsite, they won’t slide down your leg. And when it’s time to get to work, you can move, reach and pivot without crawling out of the front or the sides. A hinged design is built to stay on with movement so you don’t run the risk of struggling with adjusting your knee pads all day and ultimately deciding they’re not worth the hassle.
PLUMBER’S KNEE PADS
What to look for: Slip-resistant cap for working in wet areas. Long cap for extra protection against rough and/or wet surfaces.
Working in the wetness calls for knee pads that are going to keep you up out of it. Look for knee pads with a non-slip cap so you aren’t slip-sliding away on slick surfaces every time you try to move. Some plumbers also like knee pads with a thicker or taller pad/cap combo that keeps their knees higher off the ground and out of any water. Hinged knee pads are also a good option so you don’t crawl out of your knee pads when working. You may also want a knee pad with extra shin protection to take any pressure off your shins and keep them out of wet areas.
ROOFING KNEE PADS
What to look for: Non-slip cap to keep you in place when working on a slanted surface.
Pitched roofs, flat roofs, roofs 100’ stories up or just a 2-story home, one thing is for certain: you need a good pair of knee pads. Veteran roofers who went without knee pads in their early days certainly pay for iit now with knees that ache and creak with every step. Not to mention the pain that comes with trying to climb up and down a ladder. First and foremost, roofers should look for knee pads with a non-slip cap. Any style cap with some grip, like an injected gel cap or non-slip textured cap will give your knees extra hold on a sloped surface. Roofers working with flames or heat might want to consider leather knee pads that resist melting. Extra-long knee pads with added shin protection may be welcome relief against uncomfortable roof edges.
MAINTENANCE KNEE PADS
What to look for: Kneeling pads that are lightweight, easy to carry and resistant to liquids and oils.
You’re the person responsible for keeping things up and running smoothly; if something breaks, you’re the one they call to come fix it. If the task at hand doesn’t require mobility while kneeling, a kneeling pad is a great option. Kneeling pads are excellent for static kneeling applications – where you’re working on your knees primarily in one place, for example, working on fixing a broken AC unit. Kneeling pads are available in a range of sizes and are lightweight and easy to take from jobsite to jobsite. Look for kneeling pads that resist liquids and oils. Pads made with a durable, high-density NBR foam rubber will resist compression and will bounce back after use for a longer service life than other foam pads.
MECHANIC KNEE PADS
What to look for: Kneeling pads that are lightweight, easy to carry and resistant to liquids and oils.
Recommended: ProFlex® Extra Large Kneeling Pad
Like those working in maintenance-type trades, mechanics can also benefit from a kneeling pad. Generally speaking, mechanics tend to go from kneeling to standing frequently, so a kneeling pad is an invaluable addition to their toolbox. Look for a kneeling pad that is resistant to petrochemicals and other liquids. Airline mechanics should also look for a kneeling pad that is free from silicone and safe for use around aluminum aircraft.
If you work on your knees, you owe it to yourself to protect the only pair you’ve got. And luckily for you and those joints, you live in a time where you have a LOT of options. Whether you want a cap that keeps you firmly in one place or a soft, flexible knee pad that allows for max movement, you’ll find a style out there that fits your unique needs. But really, the best knee pads are the ones you’ll actually wear. So spend some time finding the pair that works best for you and your body.
GET PROTECTION WHERE YOU KNEED IT
To learn more about knee pad styles and to find the right pair for you, check out the full line of ProFlex® Knee Pads and Kneeling Pads – positive proof that there’s a big difference between getting the job done right, and just getting by. SEE ALL KNEE PADS >>>