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Knee pain affects millions of people each year. You might experience occasional “Monday morning” knee pain after a weekend of athletics and fun. Or, you might experience chronic knee pain — a near-constant discomfort that diminishes your quality of life.
A knee brace provides extra joint support that can either ease your current pain or prevent it from happening in the first place.
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The shopping guide below provides detailed information about knee braces. If you’re looking to combat knee pain, please read on to learn which features are most important, along with insights and advice from Physical Therapist and expert adviser Lynda McClatchie.
Knee braces can reduce the inflammation and swelling caused by injuries. The brace compresses the area, forcing the swelling down and reducing pain.
A knee brace can help prevent pain from physical contact to an injured knee. Find a knee brace made of a rigid material or one that has protective strips or bars.
Lynda is a Physical Therapist with extensive training in musculoskeletal and pelvic health physical therapy. She is credentialed in the McKenzie System of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) and teaches this system to the senior Physical Therapy students at the University of Toronto, Canada. She realized one of her dreams by starting her own Physical Therapy & Wellness Clinic. When not trying to stamp out injury, Lynda can be found on her bike or hanging out with her husband and two awesome kids.
Some knee braces are designed to give the knee more stability. This type of brace is good for knee ligament injuries in which the ligaments have been stretched by a sprain. The stability prevents the ligaments from stretching further.
It’s common for a leg to feel tired for the first few days after wearing a new knee brace. This is more likely to occur with a restrictive or bulky style of knee brace.
Your doctor may prescribe a knee brace if you suffer a torn ligament. The proper brace supports the ligaments as they heal. A brace can also help knee ligaments recover from mild strain.
Knee braces benefit people with chronic pain due to arthritis or a previous injury. The brace alleviates pain by providing support and reducing swelling.
A knee brace can help even when you’re unsure exactly why your knee hurts. However, we recommend that you visit a doctor before self-treating with a knee brace.
Knee braces should be used in response to pain or injury to provide support, warmth, and stability to the knee joint. Using a knee brace to try to prevent an injury can inhibit muscles working fully.
Many different types of knee braces are available, and each offers certain advantages. Match the type of knee brace to your particular situation.
This is the most restrictive type of knee brace. It sports rigid bars on the sides of the knee as well as horizontally around the knee joint. A strong hinge may restrict movement of the knee.
This is a common type of brace to wear after having surgery, as it provides support for the ligaments as they heal and prevents contact injuries. This type of brace must be wrapped around the knee and latched into place.
Follow any recommendations your doctor provides regarding knee braces. Wear your brace for the recommended amount of time.
A sleeve knee brace exudes a basic design. You simply slide it up your leg and leave it over the knee joint. This type of brace provides compression for a knee joint that may be swollen. But it’s soft-sided, so you shouldn’t rely on it to support damaged ligaments.
Some sleeve braces have an open patella; a hole in the center of the brace exposes the kneecap. Others are closed — these work well when you need to provide compression to the entire knee, including the kneecap.
Proper fit is a must! Put on the brace and fasten all straps, then slide two fingers under a strap – if the fingers can’t fit under, the brace is too tight. If you can easily fit in two fingers, it’s too loose.
This device is so simple, it almost doesn’t qualify as a knee brace. It’s a thin strap that wraps around the knee, just below the kneecap. These are used for specific problems, such as ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome) and jumper’s knee.
If the knee is swollen, consider a sleeve without a hole so the swelling is encouraged upward and does not become puffier at the kneecap.
This type of brace wraps around the knee and fastens with Velcro. These braces often have a patella hole over the knee cap. They provide stability above and below the knee but very little support on the sides.
If you’re looking for a quality wraparound knee brace, you might check the offerings from Shock Doctor. This manufacturer is known for its excellent wraparound models, some of which have patella holes.
Some wraparound braces sport hinges along the sides of the brace. This is a sturdier type of brace for those who may suffer from unstable ligaments. The hinges allow the knee to move in a natural manner while still supporting it. This type of brace also provides compression when the knee swells.
If you’re looking for an excellent hinged knee brace and don’t know where to start, we suggest you check out the offerings of McDavid. This manufacturer is known for its supportive hinged knee braces.
Some types of knee injuries require custom-made knee braces rather than off-the-shelf braces.
When searching for the perfect knee brace, consider the following characteristics.
Not every knee is the same, so an adjustable knee brace can help ensure a correct fit. An adjustable brace can be made more comfortable by shifting its position on the knee. You can also adjust the brace to fit tighter when you experience swelling.
Velcro straps enhance the adjustability of a knee brace.
If you need to retain freedom of movement with your knee brace, soft material works well. Hinges built into the knee brace can help the knee retain its natural movement while simultaneously supporting the ligaments.
Slippage is a common problem with knee braces made from soft materials. The brace might shift from the proper position as you move. Look for a brace with adjustable straps, usually secured with Velcro, as this type of brace is more likely to stay in place.
A knee brace that has endured some wear and tear may start slipping out of place. If this occurs, consider replacing it with a new one.
Knee braces are available in different sizes and lengths. Look for a brace that addresses your specific problem area.
For example, if you seek to compress a wide area around the knee, select a longer brace.
Some braces are designed to protect specific areas around the knee joint. For example, a brace might feature a web-like design around the kneecap for enhanced kneecap protection.
If you experience knee instability as a result of ligament damage, a highly rigid brace is best. This type of brace often includes support structures on the sides of the knee and around the kneecap.
However, a rigid design restricts movement. If you suffer a knee injury, your doctor may recommend a brace with a specific level of rigidity.
Doing appropriate exercises to help strengthen the hip and thigh muscles will help to lessen knee pain more effectively.
If you plan to wear your knee brace while swimming, performing water aerobics, or undergoing water therapy, you need a specific brace.
Not all knee braces are designed to be used in water. And some braces deteriorate faster if they’re submerged in water for a long period of time.
If you want to swim with a knee brace, select one that is made for use in water. Some knee braces wear out more quickly if used in water. Water exposure could even cause some models to fail.
A bulky knee brace weighs more than a simple sleeve knee brace. You might find that wearing a heavy knee brace fatigues your leg after a few hours. However, a bulky brace will give you a greater level of support.
If you’re concerned about the weight of your knee brace, slowly increase the amount of time you wear it over several days. This will give your leg muscles time to become accustomed to the weight of the brace.
Q. Will a knee brace mask my actual injury?
A. Don’t assume that using a knee brace can help with every knee problem. A knee brace cannot fix an injury — it’s designed to provide support while an injury heals. If you suspect a serious injury, it’s best to consult a doctor who can determine which type of knee brace would help you.
Q. Can I keep exercising with a knee brace?
A. If you’ve suffered an injury, check with your doctor first. If the doctor determines that you cannot further damage the knee, a brace might help you continue working out.
Q. How long per day should I wear a knee brace?
A. Most knee braces are designed to be worn for a large portion of the day. But if your knee brace doesn’t fit properly, it could rub your skin and cause sores. Be sure you select a brace that fits properly so you can wear it as long as possible. Most people remove their knee brace at night before sleeping, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.
Q. How do I know if the type of knee brace I’ve selected is working?
A. You should notice a reduced level of pain or swelling in the knee after using a brace for several days. The reduction in pain may occur slowly over time, so don’t expect immediate results. You may also notice that the knee has more stability when wearing the brace than when you aren’t wearing it.
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