The Complete Guide That Makes Running With a Knee Brace Simple
In his book Ultra Marathon Man, ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes, "There's magic in misery." But do you have to be fully miserable to run? Is there a way to mitigate some of the pain of running?
When you're a runner who has suffered a knee injury or if you have recurring knee weakness and want to run, you should wear a knee brace. While running with a knee brace may initially feel bulky, even a basic compression brace will keep your knee stable and healthy as you seek the open road.
Should I Run With a Knee Brace?
Americans love their runs, as evidenced by trends like the run everyday streak. But running can wreak havoc on your knees, and you may find yourself wondering if you should run through knee pain. And if you do have knee pain, do knee braces help when you run?
If you have a severe injury, like a ligament tear or a sprain, you should rest your leg instead of bracing up your knee and grimacing through the pain. Even with a brace, you can do more damage with a run if you have a severely injured leg.
Once you've received the go-ahead from a physician, then it's time to find the right brace and begin running slowly again. In this case, you should run with a knee brace on. Your condition will determine how much running you do and what type of brace to choose.
If you suffer from arthritis or have structural knee problems like a meniscus tear, an unloader or offloader brace will help you most.
When you run, you should never just step outside and start jogging. To run right, you need to engage in warm-up exercises, such as high knees or butt kickers. These warm-up exercises could put extra strain on your knee, so wear your brace even during these.
Walk It Out
To test if you're ready for a run, you should go for a walk first. Begin with a short saunter if you've sustained an injury. If you're experiencing knee pain when you walk, then your body is not ready for the impact of running yet.
Visit your doctor to see which brace works best for your body type so you can get back to walking and hopefully running.
Your knee pain may have nothing to do with your knee at all. If you do not have the right shoes for running or if you have worn-out shoes, then you will have knee pain.
Visit a local sporting good store that specializes in running to have your gait and step examined. You can run with a knee brace once you have the right shoes in place, but with the right shoes, you may not even need the brace.
Do Knee Braces Protect the Knee Against Impacts While Running?
We all understand why you may need to wear a knee brace for pain. Even running on a treadmill can cause some knee distress. After all, you're still participating in a high-impact exercise, pounding your feet out step after step.
Knee braces can protect your knee against impacts in a couple of ways.
Knee Braces Keep Your Knee Aligned
For one, the brace will keep your knee aligned. This way your joint stays in line with your hip and the impact goes right where nature intended it to.
Your knee has a series of tendons and ligaments that keep it in line. The ligaments stretch on the sides of the knee and over the top of the knee, much like the parts of a brace that stretch over the side and the top of your knee.
If your knee is not aligned, then running and even walking will put undue stress on the ligaments that hold your knee together. They can stretch and even tear with enough impact.
Knee Braces Encourage Good Form
Additionally, the right brace encourages a good running form. Yes, there is a right way to run.
When you run, everything from your head to your hands to your torso should move in sync. When you wear a knee brace, your knee stays under your hip, in line with it as it should.
This proper posture as you run prevents further injuries and the need for long-term knee brace use.
What are the Benefits of Running with a Knee Brace?
A knee brace provides support in multiple areas.
If you've injured your knee and need structural support, a knee brace can provide that. For example, if you've torn a ligament in your knee, then you will initially need a hefty brace that provides structure as your ligament heals. Most likely, at this point, you will not be running, though.
When you want to run, a knee brace offers you pain relief from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. The compression and support alleviate the joint pain temporarily as you exercise.
A knee brace can also minimize the impact on your joint since the brace will encourage good running form and less impact overall.
Ultimately, though, the right knee brace can reduce pain and provide enough support so you can continue to engage in a sport that you love.
What Type of Knee Brace is Right for Me for Running?
Knee braces come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. A simple search will lead you to the most complex immobilizing braces to the simplest compression sleeves.
You know which type of knee braces will work best for running based on your need.
An immobilizer brace, for example, does not work for running. The whole purpose of an immobilizer brace is to immobilize the joint after a serious injury or surgery.
Compression Knee Brace
Compression knee braces are among the simplest braces and the most commonly used. You can find basic sleeves or a compression brace with some form.
Compression braces can work well for smaller injuries like a basic meniscus tear.
A compression brace distributes pressure around your knee. Every time you walk or even just stand, you put pressure on your knee and the surrounding tissue. Compression braces transfer the pressure from your joint to the stronger long bone and muscle around the knee.
A compression brace is a stretchy shaped cylinder of padded neoprene. It can have a wider area for just your knee cap or the whole knee joint if you need more mobility.
Even if you have not injured your knee, a compression brace can make sense. It provides extra support for weak knees and reminds you to keep your form in check as you run.
Hinged Knee Brace
A hinged brace is a much more rigid brace than a compression brace but still offers mobility. The brace consists of structured materials on the sides of your knee with a hinge at the knee joint. Thus it allows you to safely swing your knee forward and back while keeping the joint in track with your hip.
The hinged knee brace protects your knee from hyper-extending and from kicking forward too far.
Most commonly you need a hinged knee brace as you recover from a serious injury. It prevents your knee from moving to the side, so if your ligaments are healing, the hinged knee brace keeps you from twisting your knee and reinjuring the ligament.
You can walk easily while wearing a hinged knee brace, but running may pose a problem since the brace is restrictive.
Hinged knee braces fall under the functional knee brace category, as do compression braces. Functional knee braces help you recover after an injury and bring your knee back to proper function. You can wear a functional knee brace like compression or hinged brace during just about any activity.
Wrap-Around Knee Braces
Wrap-around knee braces are the second-most popular type of brace on the market to compression braces. Instead of sliding over your knee like a compression brace, the wrap-around braces open on one side. You wrap the brace around your knee and then tighten it to fit your specific leg and knee.
Wrap-around braces are the most universal type of fit on the market, and thus many people keep them in their first aid kits. They consist of stretchy compression material and some built-in structures, often sewed into the sides of the brace. They are more than just compression material but have the form that you'd find in a hinged brace without the hinge.
You can use a wrap-around brace to self-treat sprains or strains on your knee. You can begin by putting the brace on tightly, creating the rigidness you need, and then loosening it as your pain lessens and your knee heals.
You can still run in a wrap-around brace.
If you have a history of injuring your knees, then a wrap-around brace is a great idea. Wrap around braces can provide preventative support for those runners who tend to trip and fall more easily than others.
Padded Knee Brace
Padded knee braces exist primarily for individuals who do a great deal of kneeling, occupational, or recreationally. So if you're a gardener or a carpet layer, padded knee braces make sense.
However, if you're looking for a knee brace for running, padded knee braces do not make sense. If you need extra protection for a knee cap when you run and are concerned about the terrain where you're running, some padding will protect your knee cap and meniscus.
Unloader or Offloader Knee Brace
Whenever you run, you put some tension and stress on your knee. An unloader or offloader brace will relieve the pain and inflammation that comes from running and other knee problems. It offloads or unloads stress.
An unloader knee brace will shift weight and thus stress from the knee onto your thigh bone. The brace will force your knee to bend to unload the inner knee of stress.
If you've bruised your knee or sprained a tendon, an unloader brace will help alleviate pain and stress on your knee.
The most common cause of pain in your knee when you run comes from a condition called "runner's knee." Runner's knee occurs when the patellar tendon, the tendon that stretches from your knee cap to your shin bone, becomes overstretched and inflamed. Your knee simply hurts.
An unloader brace can unload the stress and pain from the runner's knee unto your thigh bone until you get the tendonitis under control.
Should I Wear Knee Brace When I'm Not Injured?
Since knee injuries are so painful, you may feel the temptation to strap on a knee brace to protect your knees even when you're not injured. After all, you want to keep running for a long time, so why not leverage that time by using whatever helps you can find.
Knee braces help those who are injured and recovering from injuries. They can provide relief to individuals with chronic joint conditions that make running more painful.
But you can keep your knees healthy on their own and keep yourself out of a brace if you care for your body. When you cross-train with a focus on keeping a strong core including your abdominal muscles, back, and hips, then you'll be able to run for a long time without any type of brace.
When you run, you're not just exercising your legs. Your whole body needs to be strong to maintain proper form and prevent undue stress on your leg joints. So focus on strengthening your hips, IT bands, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
If you have a job that requires you to sit for long periods, you especially need glute exercises. Your butt can grow weak and tired from sitting too long, and you can acquire dead butt syndrome, a problem that can cause knee problems when you attempt to just jump up and start exercising.
When you do start running, start slow. Warm your body up, and focus on proper form.
Brace Yourself for Running
If you've suffered a knee injury or have chronic knee problems, you can still run. Now that you understand how knee braces help you meet your fitness goals, strap on your shoes and your knee brace, and start running.