Knee BracesKnee braces serve a variety of purposes. They are sometimes part of the treatment plan for those recovering from surgery, such as an ACL repair. In addition, a knee brace may be helpful if you have osteoarthritis of the knee. It can also prevent an injury or re-injury. The brace you choose depends on the knee issue you’re experiencing and how much support is necessary to protect the joint.
How Much Support Do You Need?Different knee braces offer varying levels of support — from soft-knee sleeves offering light protection and the full range of motion to rigid, hinged knee braces that provide maximum support and limited movement. Labels on the product define the level of support they provide, such as:
- Light support (level 1 support) such as a compression sleeve is appropriate for general pain relief. This level of support allows you to remain fully active and doesn’t restrict the knee’s range of motion.
- Moderate support (level 2) provides more protection and stability but limits movement. This level of support is often beneficial for problems such as tendonitis or ligament instability.
- Maximum support (level 3) is a rigid or semi-rigid brace. Knee support braces in this category strictly limit the motion of the knee (with hinged braces) and may even immobilize it completely. This level is often part of a post-surgical plan or used for major joint instability.
Types of Knee BracesThere are four broad categories of knee support products.
- Knee sleeves are a type of compression knee brace. They are easy to put on, low profile, and worn beneath your clothes. Knee sleeves redistribute the weight-bearing load and are beneficial for arthritic knees and chronic knee pain. Because they allow a free range of motion, they’re probably the best knee braces for running.
- Wraparound braces provide moderate support and help relieve mild-to-moderate pain. They also provide stability in cases of patellar (kneecap) dislocation or instability. As the name suggests, they wrap around the knee and close with straps. They are easy to put on but are bulkier than compression sleeves.
- Hinged Braces may be soft or rigid, providing moderate (soft hinged brace) to maximum (rigid hinged brace) support. Hinged knee braces hold the knee in proper alignment and strictly limit the amount of movement possible. They are for after knee surgery or when recovering from a ligament injury.
- Knee bands or straps are a type of brace that provides support and pain relief for conditions such as the runner’s knee and jumper’s knee by putting pressure on the tendon, which holds the kneecap in place. They are like elbow straps for tennis elbow and fasten around the calf directly below the kneecap.
Open or closed patellaKnee sleeves, wraparound braces, and hinged braces also have the option for either an open patella — a hole in the center of the brace, over the kneecap — or a closed patella. Open patella braces provide more kneecap support and relieve pressure on the kneecap, while closed patella braces provide consistent pressure across the whole knee.
If you’re unsure which version of the knee brace is appropriate for you, talk to your doctor or orthopedist.