Conditions That May Require a Knee Brace
Whether you’re experiencing mild pain or recovering from a major knee injury or surgery, a knee brace can give you the support you need to feel better and get better. Below are some of the medical conditions that may benefit from a knee brace, whether a simple compression sleeve or a rigid hinged brace.
If you injure your knee or experience persistent knee pain, see your healthcare provider. For minor injuries, they may recommend rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), followed by use of a brace as you get back on your feet. More serious conditions may require surgery and/or physical therapy.
Keep in mind that knee braces are not typically a standalone, long-term treatment for knee pain or instability. Talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist about ways to rebuild your strength and mobility so that you can get back to moving without a brace.
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Common knee issues
Anterior knee pain: Anterior knee pain is a general term describing pain in the front or center of the knee. It can be caused by conditions including:
- Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome), which involves pain around the kneecap (patella) and a rubbing, grinding, or clicking sound when the knee bends
- Jumper’s knee (patellar tendinitis), characterized by pain below the kneecap caused by injury to the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone
- Quadriceps tendinitis, characterized by pain and tenderness above the kneecap caused by injury to the quadriceps tendon
- Chondromalacia patellae, in which the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap deteriorates
- Lateral compression syndrome, which causes pain under and around the patella due to misalignment or dislocation of the patella, trauma or overuse
- Patella maltracking or patella tracking disorder occurs when the kneecap is unstable — moving side to side, for example
- Patellofemoral arthritis occurs when cartilage underneath the kneecap or in the trochlear groove breaks down
Osteoarthritis of the knee: The knee is one of the most common locations to develop osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage that cushions the joint wears away. The rubbing that results causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased mobility. An unloader knee brace for osteoarthritis can help relieve pain.
Knee sprains: A knee sprain is damage to the ligaments of the knee. Sprains are often caused by collision or a fall (such as in sports), or a sudden twist to the knee. Symptoms include pain and swelling.
Knee strains: A strain is an injury to the knee’s tendons or muscles, often caused by overuse or a sudden increase in activity. Symptoms include pain and swelling.
Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome: The iliotibial band is a thick band of tissue that runs along the outer thigh and helps to stabilize the knee. The IT band can become irritated or injured from exercise or improper body alignment, causing pain on the outside of the knee as well as thigh and hip pain.
Knee ligament tears: There are four major ligaments in your knee: bands of tough tissue that connect your bones, stabilize your knee and control movement. Injuries to these ligaments are common. Mild tears can heal with rest, compression and support from a knee brace, while more severe tears may require surgery.
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear: The ACL is a band of tissue on the front of the knee that connects your femur and your tibia. ACL tears are common, especially in women. If you tear your ACL, you’ll feel immediate pain, as well as a pop in the joint, and your knee will typically swell.
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) tear: The LCL is a band of tissue on the outside of the knee that connects your femur and your fibula. Typically affecting athletes, an LCL tear can cause pain, swelling, tenderness and a feeling of shakiness or instability in the knee.
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear: Located on the inner side of the knee, the MCL is a ligament that connects the femur to the tibia and stabilizes the knee. Often affecting athletes, MCL tears are the most common knee ligament injury. Symptoms include pain and tenderness on the inside of the knee, instability in the knee, and feeling your knee joint catch or lock when you try to move it.
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear: The PCL runs along the back of the knee, connecting the femur to the tibia. A PCL tear is typically caused by trauma, such as falling onto a bent knee or landing the wrong way after a jump. Symptoms include pain, inflammation, a feeling of instability in the knee and difficulty walking.
Torn meniscus: The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage (there are two in each knee) that serves as a cushion between your shinbone and your thighbone. Sudden twisting or rotation of the knee may tear the meniscus, causing pain, swelling, stiffness and difficulty walking.
ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) Tears (Cleveland Clinic)
Causes of Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome and Treatment Options (VeryWell Health)
Knee Strain or Sprain (Bon Secours)
Osteoarthritis of the Knee (Degenerative Arthritis of the Knee) WebMD
Patellar Tendinitis/Quadriceps Tendinitis (Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine)
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) (Hopkins Medicine)
Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injury (Cleveland Clinic)