Your knee is the most vulnerable joint in your body. There are multiple instances of athletes, and common people having torn meniscus, or even having arthritis losing their joints due to tears and stress.
That’s why a knee brace is a great option for people that are trying to recover from such injuries. In this guide, we want to give you a detailed insight on knee braces and why they can be crucial to your recovery.
What Are Knee Braces?
Knee braces are supports on you can wear when you have pain on your knees. Usually, athletes use them for practice or for sports games to reduce their chance of injury. Braces are created from material combinations out of plastic, metal, foam or out of elastic straps and material. They are various in size and have many designs and colors.
Your local doctor will recommend that you wear a knee brace once you’re experiencing pain. However, some doctors will argue that knee braces aren’t a good idea. They state that knee braces will do more harm to the user than help them treat their injury.
Scientific research doesn’t have a direct answer either. So it’s important that you contact your doctor to determine which knee brace is best for you.
When Are Knee Braces Used?
Different knee injuries require different braces. Your doctor might suggest you wear a knee brace after surgery. Other doctors might recommend a knee brace after suffering a torn ligament.
You might also need one for front knee pain if it isn't getting better via flexibility and strengthening exercises. Braces don't tend to work well to stop future knee injuries from occurring. Contact your doctor to receive advice about your knee brace.
When speaking to your doctor ask them the following questions:
Do I need to wear a knee brace?
What to do if the knee brace doesn’t help my injury?
Are there exercises or stretches I can do to help heal my knee?
Are there exercises or stretches I can do to prevent knee injury?
Based on their medical ability to provide stability to your knees, knee braces are used for a variety of medical and athletic applications. Here are the main reasons why people tend to use knee braces:
Before the invention of knee braces, it was virtually impossible to recover from even the slightest knee injury. However, with the rapid development and evolution of knee braces, the methods of treating and preventing knee injuries have improved.
Prophylactic knee braces are made to protect your knees from valgus stresses that might potentially damage your collateral ligaments. However, there is no conclusive evidence to help support their effectiveness, but they aren’t recommended for frequent use.
However, functional knee braces can be used to stabilize your knees during anteroposterior and rotational forces. They offer proper rehabilitation and treatment for ligament-related knee injuries.
Patellofemoral knee braces are used to treat knee disorders (in the anterior region) and provide subjective improvement in the affected areas.
Additional studies are needed to show the complete benefits of knee braces for injuries. Doctors recommend that knee braces are used with rehabilitative programs that incorporate, flexibility, strength training, technique refinement, and activity modification.
Others will find comfort in wearing knee braces, especially those that are suffering from chronic pain or osteoarthritis. Unloader knee braces are commonly used to unload stress that’s caused by arthritis in your inner knee.
This brace is usually made from plastic foam and uses steel struts to reduce side movement. They are designed to reduce the pressure from three pain points of pressure on your thigh bone, which helps your knee bend away from its affected area.
Neurological impairments such as those caused by cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and a stroke. These impairments can be caused due to a lack of muscular control, and can lead to a group of symptoms such as dramatically slowed movements, inability to start movements, and a loss of body coordination.
Most of the time, neurological impairments will affect your legs, resulting in a loss of a quality of life and a loss of independence.
Despite the efforts of physiotherapists and doctors, some patients might never recover their mobility. This might leave a few patients with a wheelchair, walker, or cane that they don't want.
Patients suffering some diseases such as arthritis have issues moving their muscles properly. For instance, the loss of quadriceps strength is the most commonly associated symptoms of knee arthritis.
While there is a lot of emphasis on the quad muscles, other knee locations have been identified. Several studies have been published that show that patients have reduced strength in:
16% reduction in your hip extenders
22% adduction strength reduction
27-40% external rotation strength reduction
20-43% internal rotation strength reduction
These are some severe strength defects that occur in each knee plane of motion. Muscular imbalances and weaknesses will have a significant impact on your ability to withstand and develop forces without movement patterns that will increase pressure on the affected joints.
How do knee braces work?
As we stated earlier, knee braces can be used to treat different applications. However, how it works is more complicated than that. Here’s how knee braces work:
Most knee injuries occur to extraneous pressure applied to your knees.
Identifying Knee pain: Knee pain is in general, but it can also be caused by a certain injury or event. Knowing more about your pain and their possible causes can help you get on the right road to recovery.
Managing Body Weight: Body weight is one of the biggest causes of knee problems. Keeping your weight within the recommended guidelines will help you reduce the load that's placed on your knee joints.
Added Knee Support: There are some knee braces that are made for specific symptoms and conditions. For instance, osteoarthritis knee braces can reduce added load that’s placed on your knee. Depending on the severity of your pain or injury, you might need a knee strap or hinged brace.
Strengthing Your Surrounding Muscles: By strengthening your knee muscles in both legs will help play a main role in supporting your knee. If there is a muscle imbalance, your knee might have to compensate for your weaker muscles. Strengthening the muscles in both joints will help even out your body and prevent imbalance injuries.
R.I.C.E.: R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice. Compression, and Elevation. Integrating these four pain relief tactics can relieve and reduce pain and help your joints move naturally. R.I.C.E. helps speed up the healing process by reducing inflammation and swelling, and then alleviate the pain.
OTC (Over the counter) Pain Medication: Medication such as ibuprofen provides pain relief while reducing inflammation. We recommend that you speak to your doctor and follow the dosage guidelines from your manufacturer.
Control is also important when looking for a knee brace. When searching for a knee brace, you want to have one that limits joint movement, while preventing unnecessary bending. Most high-end braces are designed to control pain while helping your knee joints get back in place.
Keeping your body aligned is the best way to prevent knee injuries. However, some patients can accidentally snap a bone out of their knee's natural alignment. To treat this issue, doctors tend to offer knee braces to improve the patient's overall health.
Hinged knee braces are used for athletes and patients who need additional support. It helps keep your knees in the proper alignment once it bends, to avoid any further injury. Doctors might recommend wearing a knee brace post surgery, so speak to them to ensure you're getting the right knee support.
Who should use knee braces?
Because of the multiple knee ailments that can occur, knee braces can be used by practically anyone. Here are the main groups of people that should invest in a knee brace for better lower body health:
Does wearing a knee brace improve your running?
The answer is maybe. While some manufacturers claim that using knee braces will help with your running speed, there's still discrepancies between the real world and the lab results.
These are the three reasons why runners (and any athlete) should wear a knee brace:
- Structural Support: The most reason why patients use knee braces is to provide support to their joints and ligaments. However, these braces tend to fall in the “Advanced” category. Since they are medical equipment, you shouldn’t wear them unless a medical professional prescribes the knee brace.
- Proprioception: Proprioception is the feedback we receive from our joints once they bend. If your knee is injured, the feedback is reduced and in some cases, a knee brace can assist you in this situation.
- Pain relief: Knee braces can provide comfort to people suffering from chronic pain such as osteoarthritis.
Runner's knee is a symptom that's common amongst athletes, especially those apart of track & field. There's no major event that causes pain. It can occur randomly, such as walking up the stairs or from sitting down with your knees bent.
While the pain isn’t enough to stop someone from working out, it can be annoying. If you continue to push through the runner’s knee symptoms, you might receive too much pain that will cause you to stop running.
The best thing you can do to reduce "runner's knee," is by preventing it from occurring in the first place. Preventing runners knee can be broken down into four categories: stretching, strengthening, stride, footwear, and training surface/plan.
Knee Heavy Sports (Basketball, Tennis, Soccer)
Many runners, weightlifters and other athletes use knee braces to minimalize the impact that high repetitive strain can do to their ligaments and joints.
The most important function of a knee brace is to reduce the pain and provide enough support to complete moderate intensity workouts required for your overall health or for a full recovery.
As we age, our bodies begin to deteriorate. The protection that received while we were younger becomes to lessen in strength once we get older. This results in a loss of knee stability, which can lead to major injuries if left untreated.
Osteoarthritis is the deteriorative type of arthritis that tends to affect the knees of elderly people. This unequal damage can damage a misalignment and can make you appear bowlegged or knock-kneed.
As this damage progresses, this misalignment worsens. Wearing a knee brace will reduce the pressure from your joints that's affected by osteoarthritis and reduce pain. If your knee is at risk of being damaged while bending, wearing a knee brace can help you walk around with more confidence and stand up straight.
Anyone doing unusual knee heavy activity if injured
It doesn't matter if you're an athlete or a someone who works in an office, our knees are not built to be overextended. This means that if your knee joints bend in an unexpected angle, it could increase the chances of injury.
Construction workers, janitors, or anyone involved in heavy physical activity have a higher chance of receiving knee injuries. This is due to their bodies consistently moving and causing tears in their joints.
With knee braces, you’ll have the structure needed to treat your knee joints after an injury. Make sure that you receive the okay from your doctor before deciding to engage in heavy physical activity again.
Can you use a knee brace if overweight?
Obesity is a common cause of knee pain and is a serious condition that one shouldn’t take lightly. The main purpose of a knee brace is to support your knee, and if you’re overweight, your knee tends to feel about 5x of your body weight’s pressure. So you need to consider the types of knee braces available based on your weight and condition.
In addition to this, having an excessive amount of bodyweight increases the chance of damaging your knees. People are are overweight experience more pain because of the cartilage that the knee joints are covered with.
The cartilage helps your knees glide as it moves with your joint when walking. However, the effect is the opposite for people that are overweight. People who are overweight, are exerting more force on the cartilage, which tends to cause knee pain. Too much body fat can lead to osteoarthritis, which is a common knee issue amongst overweight patients.
Knee braces are less expensive and less invasive than performing a surgery. If you’re experiencing constant knee pain or are overweight, speak to your medical professional. A knee brace might be the first thing to help bring some energy back to your step.
Types of knee braces
There is a myriad of knee braces that are available that can help bring the structure back to your knee joints. Here are the most common types that doctors tend to recommend.
Prophylactic knee braces are used by athletes that are recovering from a knee injury. These braces were used in 1970s when the first models were testing on NFL players. Since that time, there has been evidence based on athletes who wear braces versus those that don't use them.
As we stated earlier, the evidence is cloudy due to the small difference between two outcomes (wearing a knee brace vs. not wearing a knee brace). Studies show that football athletes have a lower chance of breaking their MCL when using a prophylactic knee brace.
However, the effects should be based on perspective. There are other factors to include such as:
There are some opposing views that believe that prophylactic knee braces are problematic to the patient’s health. However, wearing a knee brace has not increased the risk of injury either. They are safe to wear and aren’t known to increase the risk of ankle or knee injuries.
A knee brace is great for support and compression for those suffering from arthritis, sprains, mild strains, or meniscus tears. Athletes wear these sleeves for sports such as basketball, weightlifting, or running that can place stressful impact on your knees from jumping, running, or squatting.
Rehabilitative knee braces are designed to limit harmful knee movements. They are prescribed to people that have suffered or are recovering from an injury. These braces are used to protect a repaired or reconstructed ligament and help provide better movement of the joints. Rehabilitative braces are great for protecting joints and ligaments from future injury.
Unloader/Offloader knee braces are designed for people with arthritis, espeically those that are suffering from osteoarthritis. Theses braces help unload stress on the knee joints by placing the pressure on the thigh bone.
This forces your knee to move away from the affected pain area. Unloader/Offloader braces are good for people waiting for knee replacement surgery and need to take the stress off their knees.
Usage in case of arthritis or osteoarthritis
When suffering from arthritis or osteoarthritis, a knee brace can help you recover without causing stress on your joints. Here are three reasons why you should use a knee brace:
Relieve Kneecap Pain: When softness or weakness of a cartilage causes pain, a knee brace can help keep the bones in place. It should allow you to do light intensity exercises to help improve your quadriceps.
Healing Ligaments: For MCL injuries, a knee brace can increase your chances of a better recovery. Anterior collateral ligament (ACL) tears will need surgery, and in this scenario, a doctor will prescribe you a hinged brace.
Increasing Confidence: People report feeling relief when using a knee brace. The main benefit is that it's psychological, as it helps you feel that the brace is supporting you. Also, it mentally forces you to stay careful with your knees once you're physically active.
How to properly clean your knee brace
It’s best to clean your knee brace 2-3 times a week. This protects your knees from getting contaminated by germs or other viruses. Here are the most common solutions to help keep your knee brace clean from them.
Baking soda is a reliable home solution for bad smells. They have been used to combat odors in shoes and for long term solutions like refrigerator smell management. Baking soda powder works by pulling out the excessive smells and moisture that’s been stored in your brace.
To use this solution, lay your brace down and cover it with baking soda. Allow the baking soda to soak for a few minutes before vacuuming, wiping, or shaking away the remaining powder.
White vinegar is the go-to-home solution for fighting off odors. While this solution doesn’t smell great, it’s known for breaking down enzymes, killing mold and bacteria, and other things that contaminate our clothes and equipment. With a quick wipe down, you can remove odors in your brace.
Deodorizing sprays is the quick sports solution to remove odors from your knee brace. While this should not be your go-to answer each time, something like Febreze can eliminate or reduce the smell of your knee brace when you don’t have the time for a long baking soda soak or a quick wipe down.
Keeping your knee brace clean can be more challenging than you’d first expect. But anyone that to wear a knee brace for multiple weeks will know how important it is to deal with lingering odors and sweat-soak that occurs with braces.
Finding out how to keep your knee braces clean is the best way to enhance the lifespan of your favorite brace while giving you an enjoyable recovery experience.
To conclude, having a knee brace is a great way to keep your joints stabilized while supporting your body. But, there are more things that you have to worry about, buying a brace. While they can be quite expensive, we've created a buying guide to help you get one that can nurse your knee back to good health.
Do you have any questions about knee braces and your health?
Ask us in the comments below.