Knee Braces

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Return Faster to the Active, Fulfilling, Independent Life You Used to Enjoy

When your knee hurts so much that you struggle to walk and perform daily tasks, your whole life changes. As the pain and the reduced mobility and freedom persists, you start adjusting your entire life.

You start saying ‘no’ to invitations to do active things like hiking, casual sports games, biking, and even just going to the park for a walk. You struggle to clean the house, go up and down the stairs, lift things, and do gardening. If you have kids, you can’t do all the same things you used to do with them.

Knee bracing is not a cure-all for most knee problems. But when used in combination with physiotherapy, exercises, rest, ice, heat, and other treatments, knee bracing plays a powerful role in preventing re-injury to your knee, and allows it to quickly heal and build up strength so you can resume your normal life activities sooner and more freely.

Just about everything you need to know about knee braces can be found in this article. And what can’t be found here you will be given additional resources to further explore the areas where you still have questions.

For example – do you need a knee brace, or will simple rest do the trick? What are the best knee braces? Are all types of knee braces designed for the same purpose or does it depend on your condition and prior injuries? How do I know which one to pick?

Use the quick links below or just keep reading and get all your initial questions about knee bracing answered.

The Ultimate Guide to Knee Bracing

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The Ultimate Guide to Knee Bracing

What Is Knee Bracing?

Knee braces provide a way to support the joints, muscles and ligaments in your knee to help you manage chronic conditions, or heal from injury while reducing the chances of hurting your knee again, and allowing you to remain mobile while you rehabilitate. 

You’re measuring your knee’s health based on three characteristics:

  1. Support for the rest of your body
  2. Strength to perform life’s activities
  3. Functionality

Knee bracing provides the support while your strength and functionality return. Bracing offloads some of the pressure within your knee, and helps absorb some of the forces that are placed upon it. Knees do a lot of twisting, bending, and moving side to side and front to back. A knee brace reduces excess movement to reduce pain and promote proper healing.

You can wear knee braces after an injury, before or after surgery, or when you have deterioration in your joints and ligaments due to overuse, age, or chronic conditions.

Knee braces can be custom-designed to fit your knees, or bought in pre-packaged sizes and designs for certain conditions. We’ll get to the details of all this later. The main thing to know up front is, it is much easier get the best knee brace for your situation if you get help from a physiotherapist who specializes in knee injuries and rehabilitation. There are a TON of bracing choices, and they are not all the same.

You can find a knee brace for arthritis, a knee brace for ACL tears, a knee brace for MCL tears, a knee brace for sports like basketball or motocross, a knee brace for skiing, and knee braces for many other purposes.

Some causes of knee pain include:

  • Torn ligaments like the ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL
  • Meniscus tears
  • Cartilage tear
  • Sprains, strains, and dislocations
  • Bursitis, tendonitis, arthritis
  • Runner’s knee, jumper’s knee
  • Osgood Schlatter disease
  • Chondromalacia

Knee braces are made of a variety of materials, such as neoprene, lycra, and polyester, as well as stiffer materials like plastic, metal or even carbon fibre in parts.

Common Examples of Brace Use of courtesy of PhysioPlus Health Group (Read the caption):

How Does Knee Bracing Help with Knee Pain?

For such a relatively small body part, the knee joint is a complex mechanism.

It contains bones – the femur, tibia, and patella, which is the kneecap. It connects with muscles and tendons – including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and patellar tendon. There is also fibrocartilage structures, known as the medial and lateral meniscus, which protects the joint from pressure and allows for smooth movement. And, there are four ligaments that stabilize the joint and promote proper function and stability.

Watch this demo of Hamstring Exercise courtesy of Strive Health and Performance

If you follow sports, you’ve heard of these when athletes suffer knee injuries. These include the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).

As you can imagine, with so many important parts, knee problems can arise in all kinds of ways.

A knee brace helps reduce pain by providing additional support and stability. Certain knee braces are designed to restrict movement so proper functionality is prioritized, preventing wobbling. Other braces provide increased compression to reduce swelling, such as after surgery or an injury.

Knee injury courtesy of Delta Physiotherapy & Rehab (Read the caption)

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9 Types of Knee Braces

The most common knee injuries and conditions where a knee brace would be needed are ACL tears, meniscus tears, patellar dislocations, and chronic arthritis of the knee. 

In this section, you’re going to find about 9 different types of knee braces. Let’s look at the main types of knee braces and the conditions they are best designed for.

Hinged Knee Braces

A hinged brace works well if you need increased stability to the knee. It is a good knee brace for sports or activities with frequent changes in direction.

The hinge helps reduce pain and provides support for wobbly knees. Hinged knee braces typically have one or two bars with hinges along both sides of the knee, with Velcro straps to hold them in place. It may come in the form of a completely rigid carbon-fibre brace or a neoprene sleeve with hinges.

The exact type needed depends on the injury and level of support required for your activity. This will be assessed by a medical doctor or your physiotherapist. 

Unloading Knee Braces

An unloading knee brace is a good choice if you’re looking for a knee brace to help with arthritis. Also known as an off-loader, this knee brace shifts, or unloads, the weight from the more damaged parts of your knee joint and reduces the joint pressure that can make osteoarthritis more painful.

With an unloading knee brace, you may be able to maintain a more active lifestyle, keep working at your job, and perform daily tasks. However, this will not cure arthritis in the knee. No knee brace can do that. But it can alleviate some of the pain and allow you more mobility and strength. 

Compression Knee Sleeves

For people dealing with swelling in their knees or those who just need a “little bit of support”, a compression knee sleeve may be the best option. 

A knee sleeve is usually made of neoprene or some other soft elastic fabric, and slides up over the knee sometimes with extra padding on the kneecap. 

Different varieties may have openings in the front or in the back, and some have straps as well. But the idea is to provide compression to increase knee support, and to reduce swelling.

Compression sleeves are also not very bulky and can be worn with comfort during your sport or activity.

Patellar Tracking Orthosis Brace

Also known as a PTO, this is a special kind of knee sleeve that limits the movement of the kneecap (the patella), and protects it from possible dislocation or subluxation. For this reason, it is also known as a patella stabilizing knee brace. Some PTO knee braces include hinges for additional knee support. 

The PTO can also be used for people with patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFS). This is a condition characterized by pain behind the knee-cap during activities like stair climbing, walking and prolonged sitting. The PTO helps offload the knee cap which can reduce pain.

Here are some of the benefits of Custom Bracing (Read the caption) of courtesy of ADM Ottawa Physiotherapy:

Patellar Tendon Straps

For people who have patellar tendon (the tendon underneath your kneecap) pain, patellar straps apply pressure to the tendon to relieve stress from where it attaches to the tibia bone. This particular knee brace has also been found to relieve pain from Osgood-Schlatter disease. This is a condition that effects children, when their bones outgrow the pace of their muscles, creating extra strain on the tibia bone.

Knee Pads

These can include a knee sleeve as well, but many knee pads are not so much meant to protect the interior of the knee as they are to protect it from direct blows. This is most common in activities where you are at risk of landing on your knees, such as skateboarding, roller skating, biking, and volleyball.

Functional Post-Operative Knee Braces

These tend to be the largest knee braces, and you sometimes see these when people have suffered serious leg or knee injuries, or have recently had surgery. These have the option to completely immobilize the knee without needing to wear a cast. 

These knee braces typically include metal and plastic along with foam liners. They can usually be adjusted to allow for a certain range of motion as you heal from your injury or surgery.

Custom Knee Braces

All the above knee braces can be purchased right off the shelf. The problem is, sometimes none of them work quite like you need them to. Why?

It’s not because these options are no good. It’s because every knee, and every injury or condition, is a little bit different. We’ll discuss custom knee braces next, which is the best way to ensure you get the best knee brace for you.

How Are Custom Knee Braces Different from Non-Custom Ones?

The best possible knee brace is one that fits your knee perfectly, provides the knee support you need, and is comfortable and easy to put on.

If it doesn’t meet all these needs, you will be less likely to wear it. If your goal is to return to sports, resume an active lifestyle, get back to the workplace, complete daily tasks and enjoy everyday life without knee pain, you need the best possible knee brace for your condition.

To create a custom knee brace, your best bet is to seek out an orthopedic physiotherapist who also fits custom knee braces. This way, your knee brace fitter is also someone who understands the workings of the knee, not just the technology of the brace. 

The best custom knee braces will:

  • Fit your knee correctly and conform to its shape
  • Not fall off or slip down easily as you move
  • Include all the features and specifications you want 
  • Be based on precise and personalized measurements

This is why when you look at online reviews of some of the “best” knee braces, you’ll still find a sampling of unhappy 1 and 2-star reviews. Sometimes this can happen because of bad service, but often the reason for these bad experiences is because the knee brace just didn’t fit them right. It was the wrong size and the wrong shape.

Plus, with a custom knee brace, your physiotherapist can show you how to put it on and take it off, and how to put it in exactly the right position on your knee.

And, custom knee braces are often covered by insurance.

Check out this post from Full Function Rehab & Wellness:

Best Knee Braces for Arthritis

Arthritis in the knee is a special reason to get a knee brace. If arthritic knee pain is left alone, untreated and unmanaged, it can become chronic pain compared to if you remain vigilant and proactive about it.

Combining your physical therapy work with a knee brace is a terrific combination as you battle arthritis in the knee. Here are five knee braces for arthritis:

Compression Sleeve

This is the same compression sleeve as mentioned before. It will minimize swelling and help with basic stability. If your arthritis is experienced merely as mild pain and swelling, the compression sleeve may be the ideal knee brace for you.

Rigid Hinge Knee Brace

The hinge brace applies compression like a sleeve, but also provides stability for your knee as it moves side to side, which can be a significant source of pain depending on the nature of your arthritis.

If you have arthritis that’s fairly under control, but then injured your knee doing something else like twisting the knee, the hinged knee brace will help the other injury heal while you continue to move your knee so the pain doesn’t get worse.

Patello-Femoral Knee Brace

The best knee brace to use with patello-femoral pain is one with straps that can guide the kneecap and prevent it from moving where it shouldn’t.

If you feel pain – particularly around the kneecap – as you use the stairs or when you squat to lift something, this special kind of knee brace might be the best option.

Custom Hinge Knee Brace

We discussed custom braces earlier. If you have old injuries like an ACL tear, and are now suffering from arthritis, a hinged brace customized to your knee will provide all the usual benefits of a hinged brace, but will conform to your knee and provide extra protection and stability.

Custom Unloader Knee Brace

Arthritis in the knee usually affects one side more than the other. Some people experience more pain on the outside of the knee, whereas others feel it more on the inside. Relieving the pressure from the painful side is the single best thing you can do to keep the arthritic pain from getting worse.

With a customized unloader brace, you’ll get all the benefits of an unloader knee brace, but it will be designed specifically for your body, and where your knee needs the most support.

Best Knee Brace for a Torn MCL

The good thing about MCL sprains is that in the vast majority of cases, they will eventually heal on their own. There are three types of MCL sprains:

  • Grade 1 sprains – a slight stretch of the ligament – may need light sleeve/support
  • Grade 2 sprains – a stretch that may involve some torn components – moderate bracing
  • Grade 3 sprains – completely torn MCL, much more painful, responds well to hinged bracing

The Grade 2 MCL sprain often results in some limping and pain. These sprains will generally heal in 6-8 weeks. Bracing for this injury will provide good knee support while the ligament heals.

For a Grade 3 sprain, limping is much worse, and you feel like your knee is about to give out all the time. These take about 12 weeks to heal.

You want a brace that fits you well, is comfortable, washable, and can be returned if it doesn’t fit right. Again, you will find the best MCL knee brace if you work with a physiotherapist who specializes in knee joint rehabilitation.

Best Knee Bracing for Sports

Sports are unique. They are not like daily life activities.

They involve running, jumping, pivoting, twisting, stopping, starting, rolling, dodging, planting, and kicking.

All this movement stresses your knee joint which can lead to kneecap pain or osteoarthritic pain. These conditions can make it hard to complete normal activities of daily living if they get bad enough.

The key to prolonging the use of your knees is to keep exercising and moving, but also to protect them with the help of knee braces in case of injury. If you have hurt yourself on the ice, field or court, using a a brace to help you return to play is advisable. This will help protect your knee as it heals and gets used to the stress placed upon it during your sport again.

When recovering from an injury, we strongly recommend buying a knee brace for sports from a physical location instead of online, unless you plan to have one custom made, in which case you should work with a physical therapist.

Why? Because buying knee braces online can be very frustrating. In person, you can feel the fabric, get a clear sense of the sizing, and make comparisons. Many online reviews of knee braces – even the brands we’ve listed below – have complaints about inaccurate sizing charts, poor return policies, and other frustrations associated with online purchases.

If your knee brace keeps slipping down your leg as you play sports, it is annoying and isn’t doing you much good. If you want the best fit for your sports knee brace, just like shoes – there is no substitute for buying in person.

With that in mind, here are some good knee braces for sports. Pretty much all of these can work for men and women, and can fit on either knee. 

Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Brace

The Shock Doctor knee brace is a hinged brace that helps avoid twisting and hyperextension, as well as a variety of other movements that can lead to injury. If you’ve had previous injuries like an ACL or  PCL tear, or surgery, this is a great knee brace to use. It is a great basketball knee brace for those who want to keep playing after suffering a knee injury.

Winzone Knee Brace

This compression knee brace protects the kneecap and the tendons, and does not restrict movement like a hinged brace does. It’s also easy to take on and off and adjusts to a variety of knee types and sizes.

This knee brace will work well for exercising, for walking, and for doing household tasks.

Bracoo Adjustable Compression Knee Support Brace

This is a good knee brace for running and exercise because the adjustable straps prevent it from slipping down your leg. It also includes a reinforced stabilizer ring that keeps your kneecap in position.

The Bracoo is durable too, which is ideal for anyone with persistent knee problems.

Exous Knee Brace

This is a four-way brace with side stabilizers. This feature increases comfort while also allowing for a full range of motion and full knee support. This is a good knee brace for running and hiking. It also might be a good choice for anyone with weak knees, pain, or swelling.

BraceAbility Knee Brace

If you have larger legs or wide thighs and play sports, this knee brace is a good option. It includes silicone grips which help keep it stable and held in place. This is an unloading knee brace, and therefore an excellent choice if you need to relieve pressure on the joint.

Do Compression Sleeves Help With Knee Arthritis?

Knee compression sleeves provides effective support for knee joint. The knee compression sleeve acts as a knee brace, providing stability to the knee joint and surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

 

Is Walking Good for Osteoarthritis of the Knee?

Yes, walking is a great exercise because it’s low impact. It helps prevent your knee from getting stiff.

The Most Common Types of Knee Braces

Patellar tracking brace:

Usually a sleeve created of neoprene or a similar stretchy fabric

Two common options:

  1. one that changes the alignment of the patella by pulling it in a different direction (usually medially, for patellar femoral syndrome or patellar tendinitis)
  2. one with a buttress/reinforcement to hold the patella in place (for a dislocating/subluxing patella) 

Ligament Brace:

  • Provide support to the knee joint not provided by compromised ligaments
  • Choices are off-the-shelf (OTS) or custom (more expensive but better fit ensured)
  • Both OTS and custom can be constructed with a solid/hard shells or stays, increasing support by decreasing the potentially harmful movement that an unstable knee joint provides
  • A less expensive OTS option is a soft shell (often neoprene) sleeve with metal hinges
  • A wrap around style of OTS (versus a pull on sleeve) is often easier to get into position
  • Typically, you get what you pay for! 

Patient’s Knee bracing courtesy of Maximum Physiotherapy

Osteoarthritis brace:

  • Often custom, but can be off-the-shelf
  • The only ones worth considering have solid/hard shells to effectively change the alignment of the lateral or medial knee joint 
  • Designed to “unload” one side of the joint to decrease further degeneration (and potentially pain) 

Compression sleeve:

  • Tight fitting sleeve to offer general compression but mild stability of the joint
  • Can help diffuse swelling and increase confidence with mild support
  • often has reduced compression over patella to avoid articular cartilage irritation
  • The best ones offer medical grade (15-20 mmHg) compression and require a bit of effort to slip on

Since there are a variety of indications for a knee brace, health professionals need to have a solid understanding of the condition and symptoms of the individual requesting the brace.  The more information identified, the better the chance of providing the safest and most effective knee brace possible.

OA Knee Brace courtesy of Maximum Physiotherapy

Find out if you actually need one and if so which is right for your condition.

5 Knee Strengthening Exercises for Knee Pain

Knee pain can initiate from many causes such as improper exercise technique, sudden injuries, as well as weakened muscles and plain old stiffness from lack of movement. 

Your knee pain will tend to show up when sitting, running, walking, carrying, lifting, or climbing stairs.

These five exercises on their own will not resolve complicated knee injuries or problems like you’ve read in this guide. But combined with knee bracing and help from a physical therapist, you can identify the best knee exercises that will help improve your condition and enable you to get back to enjoying your life.

For knee injuries, the hips specifically need to be addressed for muscle strength and coordination as weakness and deficits here can affect the loading to the knees. None of these knee exercises should cause any pain. If they do, stop doing them and seek help from a physiotherapist.

The recommended amounts for all these exercises is 10 repetitions, 3 sets every day, for 2-3 weeks.

Clamshells

For clamshells, lay on your side and support your neck with a pillow or towel roll.

Bend your knees to 90 deg, and keep your hips bent about 45 deg with your back straight.

Keeping your feet together, lift the top knee toward the ceiling. Pause, then lower it, imagining a clamshell opening and closing. Don’t let your pelvis roll backward throughout this motion.

For additional strength training, add an elastic band around your knees.

Bridging

For bridges, lay on your back and bend your knees to 90 deg so your feet are flat on the ground. Support your head with a pillow or towel. Keep your knees, hips, and feet in line.

Tighten the muscles in your buttocks and lift your hips toward the ceiling as high as you can without arching your back. Pause there, and lower back down.

For additional strength training, use an elastic band and pull your knees apart before lifting off the ground.

Hip Abduction

Lay on your side again, but this time bend only the bottom knee. Keep the top leg straight and support your head as before.

Lift your leg toward the ceiling, with toes facing forward. Make sure to keep your leg in line with your body and avoid letting it move forward. Pause there, and then lower. You should feel the side of your buttock working during this exercise.

Straight Leg Raise

Lay on your back again and support your head. Bend one knee so your foot is flat.

Straighten the other leg with toes pointing up, and lift the leg until it reaches the height of the bent knee. Pause there, and lower it back down. Keep the lifted knee straight while completing. You should be feeling the quads working during this exercise.

Seated Knee Extensions

In a seated position, straighten your knee against gravity. 

You can make this more difficult by adding weight on your ankle or attaching an elastic band to your ankle. 

Hold at the top for 3 seconds and repeat for 2 sets 8-10 repetitions. 

Now, these are just basic introductory exercises. Once these become too easy you will want to contact a rehab specialist like a physiotherapist to help you progress them. A good physiotherapist will tailor the exercises to meet the demands of the sport or activity that you want to get back to.

4 calf raise variations to improve your run courtesy of Elumena Health Clinics

3 GREAT stretches everyone should do courtesy of Kenaston Common Physiotherapy

Monster Walks to reduce knee pain courtesy of Kenaston Common Physiotherapy

Top 7 Best Selling Knee Bracing Brands and Models

Lists of best selling knee braces will always be changing, but it will help you get started by taking a look at some of the biggest names. Again, the knee brace recommendation that matters most is that which comes from your physiotherapist. They will recommend a brace specific to your unique needs.

Bauerfeind

As the name implies, this is a German-made knee brace! The Bauerfeind Genutrain Knee Brace is one of their most popular and more affordable options. It provides adjustable straps, pressure points to minimize pain and maximize circulation. It also features breathable material, and comes in six sizes.

These work great for patients with patellae that are prone to dislocation, chondromalacia, or arthritis.

Donjoy Tru Pull Lite Knee Brace

Donjoy knee braces are one of the most popular brands on the market. This particular one anchors at the thigh and the calf and is best for patients with patellar pain, anterior knee pain, tendonitis, or osteoarthritis.

Donjoy Reaction Web Knee Brace

This Donjoy knee brace was designed by an orthopedic surgeon. It is built to absorb shock and shift pressure away from pain you may be feeling in your knee. This is a good Jumper’s Knee brace, and also works well for patients with instability in their knees, or osteoarthritis.

Donjoy Playmaker

Yet another Donjoy knee brace, this is a hinged brace that controls your range of motion. It’s a great knee brace for ACL injuries, as well as for patients recovering from ligament strains.

Medspec Dynatrack Knee Brace

This knee brace applies constant pressure regardless of the position of your leg. It has an extra lining that prevents it from slipping, and it fits nicely under clothing. It works well for patients with unstable knees and those who have had a ligament injury.

Breg T-Scope Post-Op

This is a post-op brace that is good for conditions that need restrictions. It includes buckle clips and hinge bars that adjust to the length of your leg and allows you to lock it within a certain range of motion. 

ThermoActive Hot & Cold Knee Support

This knee brace includes a special polygel pack that applies hot and cold around the knee along with uniform compression. A handpump adjusts the level of compression. This is a good knee brace for ACL injuries and for anyone who has had knee surgery or injuries to their meniscus.

How Long Does Runner’s Knee Last?

It’s different for each person but generally it requires 4-8 weeks to fully recover with proper treatment.

You should workout based on an exercise plan created by your Physiotherapy or doctor. 

Some people report after this type of massage they need to urinate more frequently. This is likely due to the fact that lymphatic drainage massage helps to release water retention. When this extra fluid is flushed out of the body, it can lead to an increase in urination. Therefore, if you are looking to detoxify your body, a lymphatic drainage massage may be a helpful treatment.

Common Injuries Successfully Treated with Knee Braces

Have your knees ever felt stiff, especially in the morning? Do you feel pain or tenderness? Do you notice swelling, even after just routine activities? Does it buckle or lock, or crack and pop?

All of these symptoms can be alleviated to some degree with the right knee brace. If you don’t do something about it, eventually you may find yourself struggling to walk for longer distances, climb stairs, stand up and sit down, and perform other simple tasks. With an unrehabilitated knee, even a relatively low-impact sport like golf can become too difficult – even with a golf cart.

Again, a knee brace alone will not usually ‘heal’ the problem in your knee if that’s all you use. But it can help prevent new injuries or re-occurring ones once you heal. Knee braces can help with the following conditions:

Whatever your injury or condition, finding the right knee brace is a critical part of the rehab process. A physiotherapist can help assess your situation and recommend the best knee brace for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Basic compression knee sleeves and hinge braces generally run less than $100. The more high end custom knee braces cost more, but are often covered by insurance.

It depends on the brace and the injury or condition you are trying to work on. Generally, you should wear it during activities that are bothersome for you. The more active you are, the more you should be wearing it.

Watch your skin for irritation or other issues, and keep up with your strengthening exercises so your muscles don’t atrophy and lose their functionality. The purpose of a knee brace is not to just sit there without moving. It’s to help you move more safely while it heals and strengthens.

Book Your BACK NECK SHOULDER KNEE ELBOW HIP WRIST FOOT Pain Consult

Knee Bracing is one of several possible methods for relieving pain that do not rely on prescription medications and all the side effects and baggage they come with. Not to mention that most drugs can only mask pain, but rarely address root causes. Find a clinic if you are suffering from muscle tightness, soreness, or pain to improve your quality of life, today.