Types of Knee Braces, Explained: How to Choose the Best for Your Needs
You long to move, to go for a walk, soak in the sunshine, and breathe deep lungfuls of fresh air. But your knees protest, aching from the moment you wake up. Do you need a knee brace, and if so, what types of knee braces should you consider?
The different types of knee braces vary just as much as the different types of knee problems. You need to select the best type of knee brace for your condition, whether it's an injury like a torn meniscus or a chronic condition like osteoarthritis. The knee brace should act in conjunction with physical therapy and exercise, allowing you to strengthen your leg so you do not have to rely on a knee brace for the rest of your life.
Before Buying a Knee Brace
Knee braces vary in cost. So before you lay down cash or swipe your credit card, you should understand why you're buying a knee brace. Understand your condition before you buy a brace. Then you can make the wisest decision.
For example, many people erroneously believe using a knee brace will weaken their knee and leg. They look at the brace as a type of crutch they will have to use the rest of their lives if they give in to buying a knee brace.
Truthfully, the brace is a type of crutch in a path to a stronger knee. Knee braces allow the tissue to heal while you strengthen the muscles around your knee. They give you mobility when you'd be restrained to a chair.
Here are a few questions you should answer as you consider knee brace is the best type of knee brace for you.
Do You Need It?
You're probably already asking yourself this question since you're reading this article. What has led you to ask if you need a knee brace?
If you find yourself with an unsteady knee joint, you may need a brace temporarily. For example, is your knee buckling when you're doing simple activities such as walking on a flat, smooth surface? Has your knee given way recently?
If you find that you're unstable in any way because of a weak knee joint, you may need the stability a knee brace provides temporarily while you regain strength and balance.
Also, if you have frequent pain or swelling in your knee, you may be one of the 54 million people in the United States with arthritis. A knee brace will not remove arthritis, but it will help reduce the swelling and inflammation. Less pain and swelling means more mobility for you.
Arthritis is tricky. You can have it in one part of the knee but not another. So every case is different when looking at arthritis in your knee.
If your knee has begun to change shape, meaning your leg is either bowing out or towing in, giving you a knock knee look, a brace can help. Knee braces work best in people that have mild arthritis or arthritis in just one part of their knee.
Knee braces also work best if you have heavier legs. You feel the support more when you have more of a leg for the brace to hug.
What Is Your Condition?
The condition of your knee will best determine if you need a knee brace and what type of knee brace you will need. For example, if you've sustained a major injury, such as a torn meniscus or a torn ACL, then your physical therapist and an orthopedic doctor will prescribe a specific brace.
If you have a chronic condition like osteoarthritis, the level of your pain will indicate which brace you will need. The more pain you have, the more support you will need.
What Is Your Size?
Your size and gender will also determine what type of brace you should purchase. As mentioned earlier, people with thinner legs, thighs, in particular, do not have as much success with knee braces. If you have a more proportionate thigh with something for the brace to hug, then you'll find more support.
Also, comfort matters. If the brace causes intense discomfort, you'll find yourself tossing the brace to the side and trying to go without it more often.
Because their thighs tend to be thicker, women find braces more uncomfortable than men do. You need to find a brace with the most support and least discomfort for your condition. After all, you're trying to be more comfortable with the brace on.
Often you can have your knee pre-measured so you have the right size of a knee brace. Pay close attention to the specifications of whatever knee brace you're considering. Knowing your measurements will help you pick the best type of knee brace for your condition.
When Will You Use the Knee Brace?
Your activity level also determines the best type of knee brace for you.
Most knee braces are designed for physical activities. If you've had major knee surgery, such as reconstructive knee surgery, then your knee brace has a different purpose.
A brace like a hinged Bledsoe brace, for example, exists to protect your knee. You wear it all the time rather than just during activity.
Typical knee braces, though, exist specifically for physical activity. You should plan on taking the brace off at night to give your skin a break. Skin irritation is a common problem when you wear a knee brace, so you should plan on not wearing the brace all the time.
The more activity you do, the more support you will need. So if you need a brace for light walking or basic mobility, you need a basic sleeve or strap. If you're planning on summiting a 14-er, then you may want something more substantial.
A knee brace makes the most difference when you're on your feet because you bear the most weight on your leg at that time. Engineers design braces to support your knee and keep it in line as you put stress on it.
If you've had an injury, your physical therapist or doctor may already have a brace in mind based on your level of activity. Follow their lead to make sure you fully recover from the injury and get your leg working properly again.
Are You Looking For a Quick Fix?
If you're looking for a quick fix, a knee brace will help you temporarily. However, no knee brace replaces exercise and physical therapy. You should plan on using your knee brace in conjunction with whatever treatment plan your physician has for you.
In the case of arthritis, a knee brace will not slow down the disease. It will, however, improve your mobility. It will increase the function of your knee and allow you to do things you otherwise would just dream about.
Knee braces will keep your tissues calmer around your knee and reduce inflammation. When you have less inflammation, you have less pain and swelling. Then you're willing to do more activities that will strengthen the muscles around your knee and eventually reduce the need for a brace.
Many people have knee problems because they're carrying more weight than their knees can tolerate. But there's a catch-22 in this problem.
If you want to lose weight, you need to exercise. But you cannot exercise if you have knee problems. A knee brace allows you to have a stable joint with reduced inflammation so you can exercise and lose the weight that's causing the knee problems in the first place.
You must exercise as you wear the brace so that your muscles get stronger. If you wear a knee brace but do not exercise, your muscles will shrink, and you will end up depending on the brace even more. It will become a crutch that you will always need.
Thus, use the brace along with physical therapy exercises. The movement will strengthen the muscles around your knee, thereby stabilizing the joint.
Different Types of Knee Braces
Knee braces are not all the same. The best type of knee brace will be the one that helps you with your specific problem. The more significant the problem, the more of a knee brace you will need.
Here are five basic knee braces, from the simplest for the simple problems to the more intricate for the more complicated problems.
A patellar knee strap is a simple band that wraps around the bottom of your knee. It applies pressure to the tendon below your knee cap. This tendon stretches from your knee cap to the bone beneath your knee and is called the patellar tendon.
The knee strap spreads pressure across a larger area and thus takes stress off a sore area of the patellar tendon.
On the pro side, the strap is a simple, inexpensive fix when you have an inflamed tendon. You just have to slide it on and tighten it. You can store it easily since it is a simple strap.
On the con side, though, a patellar strap is not for more complicated knee problems. If you have arthritis, for example, you will need more than just a simple strap across the bottom of your knee.
Compression Knee Sleeve
A compression knee sleeve is a simple sleeve of tight, spandex-like material that you slide over your leg. It holds your knee together through basic compression.
A brace like the Elastic Sports Knee Sleeve is a great example of a simple compression sleeve. It compresses the soft tissue around the joint offering gentle support and firm compression.
On the downside, the compression knee sleeve is not a fix if you have had a recent knee injury. If you've torn any ligaments or strained any tendons, you may need something more significant.
A patellofemoral brace treats kneecap instability and arthritis. It is a more significant brace than the compression sleeve in that it provides pads around the knee cap to prevent your knee from sliding out of joint.
You can often adjust the brace with velcro.
The patellofemoral type braces are great if you have trouble with your knee cap sliding out of place or if you struggle with arthritis. It offers compression to alleviate inflammation as well as stability to keep your knee in place.
The downside of this brace is just in its structure. The more brace you have, the more opportunity for discomfort. With more structure in place, you need to make sure the brace fits perfectly.
Functional Knee Braces
Functional knee braces provide additional stability as you seek treatment with physical therapy. These substantial braces help you strengthen your thigh muscles so you can improve your balance.
A good functional knee brace will stretch farther below and above your knee to give you more stability. It will give you the sense that your joint is holding together and thus improve your balance overall.
You should not use a functional knee brace on its own, though. You need to pair it with physical therapy to garner its full potential. It is not a substitute for strong muscles, so you need the PT to strengthen your muscles as you wear the brace.
Knee Braces for Osteoarthritis
A basic orthopedic knee brace will help you most if you suffer from osteoarthritis. For example, an unloader brace is a specific type of orthopedic brace that alters the weight-bearing force on your knee. It shifts the weight away from the part of your knee that has arthritis in it.
Orthopedic Knee Brace
An unloader brace is truly the best solution if you suffer from arthritis in your knee and want to regain mobility.
On the downside, an unloader brace is one of the more expensive options. Some insurance policies will cover the cost of the brace.
Also, this brace works best on thinner people. If you're someone suffering from osteoarthritis because of your weight, you may not receive the full benefit from an unloader brace.
Unloader Knee Brace for Osteoarthritis
Brace Yourself For Mobility
When you're looking at the types of knee braces on the market, consider your intended level of activity. Then brace yourself for mobility.
Check out our supply of knee braces. We offer many solutions for whatever is ailing your knees.