Knee pain is one of the most common complaints of the body, especially as age progresses. The pain can be caused by reasons such as knee replacements, osteoarthritis, or sports injuries such as ACL/ MCL and meniscus injuries.
Braces can be used for acute injuries, chronic conditions and for the prevention of injury. A knee brace combined with physical therapy is the best way to reduce the pain and get back to pain free life. They can be used for preventative reasons or for support following an injury.
There are many different types of braces and each will provide different levels of support and come in a variety of materials. When looking for a knee brace you want something that is comfortable and won’t interfere with your normal knee function and tracking. There are four general categories of knee braces you should consider when deciding which brace will fit you best: prophylactic braces, functional braces, rehabilitation braces and unloader braces.
Who needs a knee brace?
Different knee problems require different knee braces. There are three reasons you would be required to purchase a knee brace. The first is that you are looking to prevent a knee injury. This is common in high risk sports that involve a lot of contact. Some examples are: football, basketball, soccer, rugby etc. Movements that require a lot of planting, twisting, cutting and jumping are also going to increase the risk of knee injury (for example dancing).
Another reason that someone may need a knee brace is for support and increased stability after an injury to the ligaments in the knee. These braces will apply forces in specific areas to support the weak ligaments as they heal. The third reason people need knee braces is to relieve pressure on the joint for those with arthritis.
These are the 4 general categories of braces:
Prophylactic knee braces are worn by athletes who participate in high risk contact sports and want to minimise the risk for injury. Some studies have shown that athletes in certain sports like football and basketball who wear a prophylactic brace have a lower rate of MCL injury. The main function of the brace is to prevent injury before it happens.
Prophylactic braces protect the MCL and support the ACL, PCL, and LCL. These braces are not simple knee sleeves; they often are made up of bars, hinges and straps. They should be taken to your doctor and fitted correctly.
Functional Knee Braces
Functional knee braces are designed to substitute for damaged ligaments. They are used after a knee injury or knee surgery to help reduce knee instability. They provide pressure and support in certain areas based on which ligament has been injured. The most commonly injured ligaments are the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and meniscus tears are also common injuries.
After an injury to the knee the types of movements that provide a high risk of re-injury are movements like cutting, twisting, jumping and pivoting. Athletes who participate in sports that have a high level of these types of movements like basketball, soccer and football will benefit greatly from a functional knee brace.
Based on the severity of your injury there are different types of functional braces to choose from. If the injury is mild to moderate a stretchy neoprene material with a metal hinge on either side is recommended. For more severe injuries a more structured and rigid hinge brace is recommended. These braces need to be fitted by a professional to avoid injuring your knee more.
Rehabilitative braces are also used after a knee injury or knee surgery. They are used immediately after surgery or injury and only used for about 8 weeks at a time. Their purpose is to limit the range of motion of the knee protecting the knee from further injury while it heals. Again, the most common injuries that would require a rehabilitative brace are ACL, PCL, LCL, and MCL tears.
These braces are convenient because they are adjustable in size, allow room for swelling and can easily be removed for examination of the knee. They consist of foam liners that surround the calf, thigh and knee, full length rigid bars on both sides and adjustable straps.
This brace is best for someone suffering from knee arthritis. The three most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of cartilage in the knee joint and is very common in the elderly. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory type of arthritis that also destroys the cartilage in the knee and post-traumatic arthritis is caused by an injury to the knee. An unloader brace would be perfect for someone waiting to get knee replacement surgery as well.
Unloader braces take the pressure off of the knee joint and transfer that pressure to the thighs. These braces provide stability and support that will help improve function of the knee and decrease symptoms caused by arthritis. This type of brace is custom designed and made of molded plastic, foam and steel struts.
Knee sleeves are not technically a knee brace but are very common among average athletes. A knee sleeve provides some support but does not function the same way a knee brace would.
The sleeve provides compression to the knee joint that increases blood flow and reduces pain during and after performance. The better the blood flow will lead to less swelling and a quicker recovery. These sleeves will also add warmth and limit movement of the patella.
Knee sleeves are often used for people who are lifting large amounts of force and performing squats. These sleeves are made out of neoprene, Drytex or Polartec and slide over the knee. They are relatively inexpensive compared to some knee braces.
How do knee braces prevent injury?
Knee braces work in two different ways. The first is through support, the snug fit provides compression which supports the soft tissue like muscles and ligaments. Whether you have injured your knee previously or not, knee braces can be an excellent way to keep your knee stable and strong.
Knee braces also provide warmth to the knee. Warmth then equals increased circulation in the knee. The more blood that is circulating will lead to a faster recovery and less swelling.
Here are our 5 best knee braces:
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Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Supporter with Bilateral Hinges
This knee brace has bilateral support hinges for increased knee stability, protection and increased performance. With patella support and premium stitching it is built for the most rigorous activities and long lasting comfort. With knee brace on you won’t feel like you have to hold back during a practice, game or workout.
This knee brace will not hinder the natural tracking movement of your knee but will prevent your knee from moving into unwanted/painful positions. The shock doctor ultra knee supporter will stay positioned correctly and not slip.
It is designed for moderate to major ligament sprains, muscle sprains and unstable joints. The N-Tex air flow vented neoprene provides moisture wicking compression that will increase therapeutic warmth and healing.
The Donjoy legend brace is another brace designed for moderate to severe ligament instabilities or injuries. Similar to the eXtreme Armor knee brace it can provide protection for ACL, PCL, LCL, and MCL.
There are different designs depending on the ligament that is damaged, as well as a combination design for multiple ligament injuries. The brace can be used in water without being damaged so is great for swimmers and extreme water sport athletes.
Ossur Unloader One OTS Osteoarthritic Knee Brace
This highly professional engineered knee brace is perfect for those suffering with knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. It is designed to treat mild to severe unicompartmental osteoarthritis by unloading pressure on the joint. This lightweight brace will provide immediate pain relief and can be worn for hours a day comfortably. The pads help to keep the brace in place and prevent it from slipping out of place.
This brace incorporates color-coded buckles, more intuitive strapping, and denser Sensil lining for increased comfort. In addition, it features flexible, perforated shells that conform easily to individual anatomy, giving this knee brace an excellent fit, right out of the box. The dynamic force straps allow for more unloading then previous braces.
Motion Pro Functional Knee Brace
The motion pro knee brace is a functional knee brace that can be used for ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL injuries. It will provide increased support to protect the previously injured ligament. This brace is very effective and will allow you to focus on playing and not worrying about re-injuring your knee. It is made of a carbon fiber material that is super lightweight and comfortable. Although it is light weight it is still very stable.
The quick connect tabs on the ends of the attaching straps allow you to quickly take it off and put it on without having to readjust the straps.
McDavid Ligament Knee Support
The McDavid knee brace is a great knee brace for those suffering from osteoarthritis and other forms of knee pain. It has a padded buttress, two medial, and two lateral stays that create solid joint stabilization. The two velcro straps and four elastic crossing straps provide additional ligament support and the redesigned wide back allows increased mobility and motion. The upper and lower straps also prevent slippage maintaining the position of the knee brace.
Two-sided nylon construction ensures long-lasting durability and can fit either the right or left knee. The neoprene material helps with therapeutic heat retention and soft tissue compression
Some things to consider once you have purchased a knee brace is to make sure the brace is being worn properly. If the brace is fitted incorrectly it can increase the risk of injury. Physical therapy is also an important part of getting rid of pain and getting back to sport after an injury.