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If you have an injury to the knee or are suffering with pain or mobility problems then a knee brace might be able to provide you with support and improve your level of comfort. These braces are affordable and easy to wear but it’s important to understand how to choose the correct knee brace for your needs.
Why Wear a Knee Brace?
There are many situations where people may find themselves needing to wear a knee brace. These simple yet effective devices provide support for everything from minor swelling to conditions like arthritis and torn ligaments.
Before you purchase a knee brace, it’s worth considering how these products work and whether they will be beneficial for your particular needs.
For those that have recently undergone surgery, a knee brace could be useful during your recovery. Throughout your rehabilitation, the knee brace will provide additional support as well.
There are different types of knee braces for surgery. Some people may need something that improves their range of motion, and others might be looking for a knee brace that will immobilize them.
In any case, post op knee braces should be comfortable, easy to adjust and breathable.
Relieve Joint Pain
Joint pain can be debilitating, but using a knee brace may bring some much needed relief from this. You will benefit most from a knee brace if your pain is accompanied by weakness or instability.
Depending on the type of pain you’re experiencing and what is causing it, there are different types of knee braces that might work. For example, an offloader is ideal for those with OA as they take pressure off certain parts of the knee, therefore reducing pain. But we will look at the different types of knee brace in a little more detail later on in this guide.
Provide Joint Support
If your joints are unstable or weak then you may need additional support, and this can be provided by wearing a knee brace. The types of braces that offer joint support are usually used by sportspeople and athletes who may have sustained injuries and need that additional support.
Helps to Maintain Joint Alignment
If the knee joint is not properly aligned then this can lead to unnecessary pressure on the outside of the knee. This is common in people with medial knee arthritis but wearing a specially designed brace and forcing the joint back into its correct alignment. This will stop the knee from giving out and can go a long way in reducing your pain levels.
Are There Any Risks to Wearing a Knee Brace?
While knee braces can be hugely beneficial in some circumstances, they may do more harm than good in others. It is vital that you speak to your physical therapist or doctor before using a knee brace as they will be able to advise you on whether this is the best treatment option for your needs.
If you don’t wear the knee brace correctly, this could make your pain worse. This is why it’s really important to familiarize yourself with your knee brace and ensure that when you put it on, it is properly adjusted and fits correctly.
When you wear an ill-fitting knee brace, there is a risk of swelling as well as skin irritation. The same can be said if you wear the knee brace for too long. Your doctor will advise you on the right length of time to wear your brace. For example, some people may need to wear it all the time, whereas others may only require it when they are active.
Over time, when you wear a knee brace, this may stop you from putting weight onto the knee. This can cause stiffness and decrease your range of motion.
Soft/Non-Hinged Knee Braces
Some people only require light support for their knees and this is where a soft or non-hinged knee brace can be useful. These are normally referred to as level 1 knee braces and offer the lowest level of support and protection.
They’re great if you want to remain active while recovering from a minor injury or pain, as they do not limit your range of movement.
At the front of the knee, you have the patella tendon, and when this becomes strained, a knee strap is a great way to reduce this. You wear the strap and it applies pressure to this area as it is tightened.
This is beneficial because the knee strap alters the angle that the patella tendon goes into the kneecap, therefore decreasing the length. This reduction in length means less strain and reduced pain.
Compression Knee Sleeve
A compression sleeve for the knee is typically used to provide compression and warmth, which is ideal if you have swelling or inflammation. What’s more, these sleeves will help to reduce pain and stiffness in the knee.
They’re normally made from neoprene, but some people are allergic to this, so you might want to look for something like elastic cotton if this is the case.
Wrap-Around Knee Brace
If you are looking for something that’s going to be really easy to wear, then a wrap-around knee brace will likely be the best choice. Not only this, but they’re easy to take on and off and are very adjustable, so you have better control over how tight they are. This means you get a good fit whenever you wear the brace.
Wrap around knee braces are perfect if you are suffering with mild pain, swelling or a small injury. They will reduce pain and help you to stay active while you recover.
Rigid/Hinged Knee Braces
For those that need a much higher level of support, a hinged knee brace is likely the answer. These are typically used for instability and where the knee may be vulnerable to further injury without the correct support. People who have suffered ligament damage or recently undergone surgery may be advised to wear this type of knee brace.
Note that rigid knee braces will affect your range of motion as it keeps the knee stable. However, this isn’t always a bad thing, especially for people who may be suffering from osteoarthritis.
Functional Knee Brace
When you are suffering with instability in the knees, you may need additional support and protection. This is often the case when recovering from an injury, and wearing this type of brace will keep the joint stable, which reduces pain and prevents further damage.
You will still be able to move the knee to a degree when wearing a functional knee brace but this movement will be protected. An example of this is that some braces won’t allow you to fully straighten the leg if this is going to interfere with your recovery.
Prophylactic Knee Brace
Prophylactic knee braces are more of a preventative measure taken by sports people who want to avoid sustaining an injury. They are common in contact sports and offer great protection but will do very little to ease pain.
Unloader Knee Brace
For patients suffering with OA, an unloader knee brace can take significant pressure off the knee, allowing for a reduction in pain. They are especially designed to treat this condition, so your doctor may suggest one if you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
Closed or Open Patella Knee Brace – What is Better?
An open patella knee brace is designed with an opening at the front of the knee where the patella (kneecap) is located. A closed patella knee brace does not have this opening. The opening is designed to take pressure off the kneecap and makes it easier to engage in active pursuits such as cycling or running.
Open patella knee braces provide greater flexibility and are a lot more lightweight than their closed counterparts. However, you won’t get the same level of support. If you need greater support then it’s almost always best to go for a closed patella knee brace with reinforced material. However, many of these braces also still allow for movement, so you’ll be able to walk and workout.
Which you choose will depend on how active you are and what level of support you need.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Knee Brace
There are a lot of things to think about when choosing a knee brace so you’ll need to take some time to figure out what will work best for you. By considering the following points, you’ll be better equipped to find a knee brace that’s going to provide you with optimum support.
The style of knee brace you’ll choose will depend on several factors. For example, the type of injury you have and how much support you need.
As we have discussed, knee braces come in varying levels of support; soft and rigid. If you have sustained a very minor injury or are experiencing mild pain then a soft support will be suitable. However, if you have a more serious injury and things like immense pain or instability then you may need to opt for rigid support.
Rigid support knee braces are also an excellent choice for those who have recently had surgery and need to limit their movement while they recover. However, it’s always best to speak to your physical therapist, who will be able to offer tailored advice to your situation.
Wearing a knee brace that doesn’t fit correctly can do more harm than good. You may find that your pain level increases and you experience swelling and skin irritation.
Many knee braces are adjustable, which allows you to alter the fit to suit your needs. That said, it is possible to work with a braces specialist who will help you to choose a brace that fits you perfectly. For those that need more intense support, this might be a preferable option.
If you’re going to be wearing a knee brace while you work out or for a long period of time, then it’s imperative to find something that’s made from breathable material. Not doing this will mean that you sweat underneath the brace, and this could cause your skin to become irritated.
The material should also be lightweight and feel comfortable to wear. There are several options to choose from, and each has its own benefits.
- Lycra is stretchy, breathable and provides excellent compression. However, there are some people that have allergies to this material.
- Bamboo charcoal fabric has antimicrobial properties so is more hygienic, and it’s ideal for people with sensitive skin. However, it doesn’t provide as much compression as other options.
- Copper infused fabric will repel odors and prevent itching. Another great property of this material is that it stays put thanks to being anti-slip.
- Neoprene is a very common material for knee braces and offers a secure fit and excellent breathability. It’s generally comfortable, although some people are allergic to it.
You need to find the right weight for your knee brace. Something too heavy can weigh you down and put unnecessary pressure on the knee. However, if you have something that’s too lightweight, this might not provide the right level of support.