Not All Knee Braces are the Same - 11 Things to Look For
The traditional sleeve brace reigns as the top contender when it comes to knee braces, but does it provide the support you need? There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to knee braces, their uses, and the needs they fulfill.
You may have been using the wrong knee support brace all along. But with this guide, we will show you the different types of knee braces and uses to help you make the right choice and give you the 11 things you should look for when finding a knee brace.
Types of Knee Braces
Five common styles of knee brace are available. They are made for a variety of uses and needs.
- Sleeve-style braces slide on and off the knee for easy removal and wear
- Strap-style braces are worn under clothing and provide discreet straps for stabilization of the knee
- Wraparound braces employ the use of a top and bottom strap to wrap around the knee
- Unloader braces are specifically designed to relieve pressure on the knee joint
- Open patellar braces promote stability for the kneecap and have a hole in the middle where the kneecap sits
A custom brace tailored to your specific knee injury is also an option but they are very costly, even with insurance, and can cost upwards of $1,000.
It is important to get knee braces specific to your problem or area of concern with a doctor’s recommendation, as wearing the wrong type of knee brace can cause more harm than good in the long run.
Here are eleven things to look for when you're selecting your knee brace.
Size is one of the most crucial but often overlooked components of a knee brace. A knee brace that is too tight will cause loss of circulation and increase swelling to the area, causing more discomfort. A knee brace that is too loose will not provide enough support to the area and may fall off, slide down, or shift around and constantly have to be readjusted.
To find the correct size, you or your doctor should measure your knee using a soft tape measure. You’ll need to measure the circumference of your thigh and your calf, about six inches above the knee. If you don’t have a soft tape measure, you can use a piece of string or other flexible material that you will then measure up to a straight ruler.
If your knee is swollen, try to reduce the inflammation as much as possible for a more accurate reading. A knee brace should fit snugly but not tightly. Knee brace sizes can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so make sure to always check the sizing charts provided.
Comfort is a big factor in choosing the correct knee brace. If a knee brace is not comfortable enough, it can detract you from wearing it as often as you should and getting the maximum benefit from it. Taking your knee brace off too soon because it isn’t comfortable can slow down the healing process.
This goes along with choosing the most appropriately sized knee brace to suit your needs. Padding can also affect comfort levels.
Breathability is the amount of airflow in and around the knee based on the material the knee brace is constructed from. Some sleeve braces are made out of neoprene, or wetsuit material, which is airtight and can cause sweating and overheating when worn for an extended time. This can also cause rash and irritation to the area.
Knee braces made out of a lighter fabric, like cotton or knit fabrics, give more options for longer wear because it allows for more airflow. There are brands of knee braces that have vented options to increase air to the area as well and absorb sweat for more comfort.
4. Level of Support
The level of support is another essential part of selecting a knee brace. No matter what your needs are, whether you are post-surgical, recovering from an injury, or just want extra support for a chronic condition, there is a knee brace for you. Knee braces often support and stabilize the middle and outside of the knee.
Knee sleeves are more flexible and are better for activities and work environments that require a lot of movement. They are more suited for minor to moderate injury, arthritis, and chronic knee pain. They are much lighter and less bulky than other knee braces.
Certain braces are equipped with hinges on them to increase support for those with arthritis who need more stability. If you’re post-surgical, you may need to wear a knee brace that will prevent the knee from moving while you recover to prevent further injury to the area.
5. Type of Injury or Condition
The knee is one of the most prone to injury, overuse, and accidents. Some of these injuries include ligament tears, meniscal tears, ACL tears, patella dislocations, fractures, and sprains.
Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause other knee problems that can alter and wear down the structure of the knee over time. This makes it more susceptible to injury, falls, and other damage and can cause a lack of stability and increased pain.
A knee brace can assist in strengthening and supporting the structure and giving you the confidence to walk freely with less pain and less worry about instability.
Patella Dislocation Braces
Patella dislocation braces are often built with stabilizers in the sides to keep the patella from suddenly shifting out of place and causing further injury. They are available in a wraparound design with a Velcro strap attached at the top and the base that fastens in place. They also have an opening for the kneecap to stick out slightly, keeping it more firmly in place.
This particular style of brace takes the stress off of your knee and allows for more freedom of movement. While these braces are lightweight and easy to put on and take off, they are not as durable as other braces.
Ligament/Meniscus Tear Braces
Hinged knee braces are better suited for tears to the ligament and meniscus. They help absorb shock and redistribute weight off the knee. They reinforce the area and minimize the chances of additional ligament strain through twisting.
These braces are beneficial in the use of helping meniscal tears heal. The rigid sidebars can be uncomfortable, but the overall benefits outweigh the discomfort factor. Some knee braces have padded sidebars for more comfort.
Hinged knee braces also aid in recovery for post-surgical patients. Their ability to take the pressure off the affected area enables more blood flow to the area and speeds up the healing process. They can also adjust to allow more freedom of movement with time and healing.
An immobilizer brace is most commonly used directly following surgery to keep the area still while the patient recovers. Any sudden movement of the area after surgery only increases the probability of further knee injuries.
6. Amount of Wear
Knee braces are also heavily dependent on the amount of use or the total amount of time you will be wearing it. Some individuals only need a brace when they are playing intensive sports or working a job that requires them to be on their feet for long periods, such as construction or as a loading dock worker for warehouse stores.
For others, they need to wear it nearly all the time to compensate for knee instability due to an underlying condition or to recover from an injury or a surgical repair. Your doctor may require you to even wear a knee brace to sleep in post-surgically as any unwanted movement while you sleep can cause further harm to the knee.
While it is not recommended to wear a knee brace constantly, there are factors determined by your doctor and condition that may require you to wear it for an extended period while recovering from surgery, extensive injury, or requiring additional stability from a chronic or degenerative condition.
As long as you are experiencing relief and improvement with your knee brace, it should be okay to wear long-term for as long as is beneficial.
7. Level of Activity
Sports braces are a recommendation for athletes recovering from an injury to prevent additional trauma to the affected area. They allow for freedom of movement during sporting activities while protecting and providing improved stability to the knee.
If you only need to walk short distances or are going to be sitting down for long periods, a knee brace may not be a requirement unless thought necessary by your doctor.
If your job involves lifting, bending, or twisting all the time, a knee brace will be the most useful for providing extra structure and protection to the knee.
8. Level of Mobility
If movement needs to be limited due to recovery from a surgical repair or injury, it may be necessary for a more restrictive brace or immobilizer. At some point, with your doctor or physical therapist’s approval, it will become necessary to remove the brace for a certain amount of time per day to help exercise and strengthen the knee.
If the knee is immobile or rigid for too long without movement, it could cause a weakening of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
If more flexible mobility is needed, a knee sleeve is the best for activities like sports and walking long distances, or standing for an extended time. It is recommended for milder to moderate knee pain and inflammation.
9. Level of Compression
Knee sleeves are preferred for mild to moderate arthritis symptom relief as they provide gentle compression to reduce the accumulation of fluid buildup in the knee and redistribute the weight off the area to improve mobility.
Many braces use Velcro straps or elastic bands as a form of compression. Some knee sleeves even have self-heating capabilities for arthritis pain relief.
Compression is key for reducing pain and swelling to the knee. A good compression knee brace will have just the right amount of pressure to reduce inflammation to the area and improve the blood flow and circulation, aiding in recovery.
10. Level of Padding
For patella dislocations or instabilities, it may be necessary to have additional padding or cushioning around the kneecap to hold it in place. This will reduce the chances of a sudden shift of the patella, which could cause more damage to the area.
Sports braces may come equipped with gel or foam padding built in to decrease the shock and impact from a fall or a hit to the knee. A sports brace can also be used to guard the area before impact as a form of injury prevention.
With the addition of Velcro straps to many knee braces, adjustability is simple. If a knee brace ever becomes uncomfortable or tight during the day or feels too loose, the Velcro straps can easily adjust as needed.
Use the two-fingers method to ensure the straps fit properly. When you fasten the straps, slide two fingers under one of the straps, if you can fit two fingers but not three, the straps are adjusted properly. If you cannot fit two fingers under the straps, they are too tight.
Hinged joint knee braces can be adjusted via a hinge dial and button on the side that will alter the angle at which the knee is flexed and the extension of the leg. They also allow for the hinges to be up or down for a better fit.
At PowerRebound, we have all of the best knee braces for every need. Your knee health is of the utmost importance and we are here for you. In addition to our knee brace selection, we carry knee pads and even self-heating knee sleeves for arthritis.
Check out our website today for your knee brace essentials. We offer free standard worldwide shipping with no order minimums and tracking included. When you're on the road to recovery from your knee injury, PowerRebound is with you every step of the way.