ACL, MCL, cartilage, meniscus, patella, and dozens of other moving parts – no wonder knees are so easily injured. Whether you are a long-time sufferer of knee pain or you’ve noticed less stability in your sports and fitness activities, a knee brace might be a smart way to prevent lasting damage to the joint. Similarly, if you’ve previously injured your knees or have undergone surgery, knee braces can help return some of any lost strength and stability.
For most novices or recreational athletes, a bandage-style brace creates a comfortable, flexible level of support. These braces are made of strong elastic and or neoprene and feature a sleeve design with a circular or oval-shaped opening for the knee cap. It works by limiting side-to-side slippage in the joint and by providing a moderate level of displacement for shock and pressure.
Sports that require a great deal of running and jumping can cause an irritating pain between the bottom of the knee and the top of the lower leg/tibia (illiotibial band syndrome) or the top of the knee and the bottom of the upper leg/femur (patellofemoral syndrome). For these particular athletes, a band or wrap-style brace may be the ideal choice. Minimalist in their design, and often adjustable in terms of sizing or strength, these braces sit right at the point of joint impact to help alleviate the pounding stress of jogging, running, playing basketball or volleyball or similar activities.
For extremely high-impact or heavy-stress sports, you’ll often see athletes wearing a hinged brace. These are essentially exoskeletons with metal posts and hinges surrounding the knee and shifting all energy and pressure evenly throughout the leg and as far from the knee as possible without causing danger to other parts of the leg. Offensive and defensive linemen in football are typically spotted with these kind of braces, as are weight lifters and strong-man competitors. These men are attempting to limit the risk of hyper-extending a knee or putting it under so much stress that the cartilage or meniscus is bruised or crushed. Other times, you may see people of all ages and fitness levels wearing a hinged brace because they are often adjustable to the point of completely immobilizing the knee. This is often recommended when recovering from an injury or surgery, allowing the wearer to slowly adjust the support and flexibility as the joint regains strength.
When choosing knee braces, or even whether to wear one at all, begin by evaluating your strength and flexibility, which are two of the major indicators of propensity towards injury. The stronger and more flexible you are, the less likely you are to be injured. Then, ask yourself if you can afford the time and inconvenience of a serious injury and the dedication needed for physical therapy and full recovery.