In the Details
Any athlete who has had trouble with joint and muscle pain knows the value of getting support where it's needed most. For those athletes' whose Achilles' heel is their knee (so to speak), the sports-gear brand Opedix has recently developed a line of tights that promise to provide a new level of assistance to that frequently mucked-up joint.
Called KNEE-Tec, the tights aren't the first to use Opedix's patented knee-support technology, but they take it a step further with a new tension system developed by Dr. Michael Decker and his colleague, Mike Torry. Decker's design uses a combination of fabric tensions to push and pull on the knee joints to create a "kinetic chain" of pressure, a setup that the company has dubbed Torque Reforming Systems.
The secret to the Torque Reforming Systems lies in its non-stretch banding and careful placement of different microfiber fabrics across 19 panels that pull and tug against each other to create tension and deliver support, without compromising the banding's integrity. "We wanted a balance of elasticities to do the work for the product, keeping the non-stretch banding as tense as possible without stretching," Decker says. The non-stretch bands are placed strategically between the various patches to offer corrective control and keep the legs in what is known as a "neutral state."
"The neutral state reduces the stress and the peak pressures on the knee joint, but it also reduces how hard your muscles have to work to get a perfect alignment," Decker says, adding that many sports injuries are caused by the joints moving out of this neutral state. "The knee is at the mercy of the hip and ankle. When anything between the two gets moved out of position, it disrupts the kinetic chain and puts extra pressure and tension on the joint."
This balance between the non-stretch banding and the microfiber fabrics proved to be the most challenging aspect of bringing KNEE-Tec to production. "It's a delicate balance," Decker says. "Any time we changed the elasticity or weight of the material, we had to re-tweak the pattern of the non-stretch banding once again." Opedix brought a designer on board to help select materials and to prototype Decker and Torry's technology. After that, it was a lengthy process of trial and error to find the perfect fit. Decker says they must have tried around 20 to 25 samples for each piece making up the tights, including the banding, the base layer and each elastic microfiber fabric.
Decker and Torry stumbled upon this approach to knee support while experimenting at Steadman Phillipon Clinic in Vail, CO, drawing their inspiration from Kinesio taping. Existing orthopedic support seemed to share a few common methods of helping the body. "Redirecting external forces is the most common one," Decker says. "When you run on the ground, the ground pushes back—this is known as the ground reaction force. If that force pushes back to the left or right, it creates changes in peak pressures, potentially damaging your joints." A common solution is what Decker calls "the shell approach" to knee protection—i.e. locking the joint in place with a bracing system. Decker and Torry wanted to get away from that. "Any time you lock a muscle or joint into the space, something else compensates for that change in motion," Decker says. "We thought, let's do a form-fit banding power where we can lasso the knee and reconnect it from the side of the knee up to the hip."
That form fit is not for compression, as is the case with many knee-support tights. Rather, the tight fit ensures that the non-stretch banding stays in its most effective anatomical location for the Torque Reforming Systems to work. The idea is that the KNEE-Tec tights support the leg's entire musculoskeletal system, to improve muscular and joint function from the thigh to the calves.
The best part? They look pretty snazzy, too.