A torn knee meniscus is unfortunately a relatively common injury among athletes in sports that require sharp changes in running direction or speed, e.g. football, soccer or other contact sports. It also has a relatively high prevalence among athletes who jump frequently and risk landing awkwardly and off balance such as basketball or volleyball players. When this type of injury occurs, you will usually need the help of a knee brace to recover as quickly and completely as possible.
In this post, we provide tips for choosing the best knee brace for meniscus tear injuries. This is whether you are looking to treat a traumatic meniscus tear, to return to normal activity or to treat a tear caused by osteoarthritis.
In certain situations, the choice of best knee brace for a meniscus tear can depend on the stage of recovery from the injury. It can also depend on whether the injury is a long term result of knee osteoarthritis. We will also include suggestions for choosing a knee brace under these circumstances.
Causes & Epidemiology
The knee joint has two C shaped pieces of cartilage situated between the thigh bone (femur) and the shin bone (tibia). These pieces of cartilage are known as menisci and they function as cushions or shock absorbers between those 2 bones. Please see the diagram on the left for an illustration of the location of the medial and lateral menisci. The menisci also prevent direct contact between the femur and tibia.
In certain situations, the knee can receive a blow that results in tearing or rupturing of either or both menisci. The symptoms of this knee injury usually include pain and swelling of the joint as well as knee instability. In addition, you may experience difficulty fully straightening the injured knee – it may feel as though it “locks” at a specific angle. You can view the various types of meniscus tear injuries in the diagram on the right.
Best Knee Brace For A Traumatic Meniscus Tear Injury
In possibly the majority of cases, the meniscus tear is a traumatic injury that results from a sudden blow to the knee. It can also arise from sudden twisting of the joint. Many of these cases are accompanied by a torn ACL injury and tend to occur during participation in contact sports.
The best knee brace for treating this type of meniscus tear injury will usually be a hinged knee brace. It will provide the knee with the maximum lateral support and stability possible to help heal both the meniscus tear and the accompanying ACL damage. Generally, you will want to opt for a knee brace with the most rigid hinge possible. Examples of these would be the BioSkin Gladiator or McDavid Bio-Logix Knee Brace.
The Gladiator knee brace has a further advantage in that its hinges offer an adjustable range of motion. As you enter the rehabilitative stage, you can gradually increase the range of motion of your knee until it eventually gets back to normality. This will reduce the risk of re-injuring your knee due to making too many strenuous demands of it too soon.
For another example of a brace with a rigid hinge and adjustable range of motion, you can also consider the Mueller Pro Level Hinged Knee Brace. It too will support your knee and help prevent re-injury of the menisci as they heal.
Returning To Normal Activity
Once you have started to return to your normal level of activity, consider switching from a rigid hinged knee brace to a knee compression sleeve. Choose one made from neoprene, as this material will offer the maximum therapeutic warmth to help hold down the risk of re-injury.
Although a knee sleeve will not offer the lateral knee support that you would get from a hinged brace, it will provide both warmth and compression. These 2 elements will reduce the risk of re-injuring your knee as you return to your normal level of activity. As an example of a good choice of neoprene based knee sleeve, we can suggest the LP Standard Knee Support with Closed Patella.
Meniscus Tears Due To Knee Osteoarthritis
In some cases (possibly a minority) your meniscus injury may be a long term result of untreated knee osteoarthritis. In this case, your choice of the best knee brace for your meniscus tear should actually depend on which brace can best treat the underlying knee arthritis.
For treatment of knee osteoarthritis, you will need a knee brace that shifts the point of contact between the thigh and shin bone. The idea will be to move this point of contact to an area with healthier cartilage between the bones, reducing arthritic pain as a result. To achieve this, an unloader knee brace such as the BioSkin OA Spiral (see right) will probably be your best choice.
When choosing your unloader brace, you will need to know which side of the knee is affected by the osteoarthritis. If the osteoarthritis is on the medial (or inner side of the knee) the unloader brace will need to shift the point of contact between the knee bones to the other side. If it is on the outer (or lateral side of the knee) the unloader will need to shift the point of contact inwards. Ask your doctor to perform an assessment to determine which side of your knee is osteoarthritic.
Unlike the use of a hinged knee brace for a traumatic meniscus tear injury, you should wear an unloader knee brace permanently. An unloader knee brace will not heal your knee osteoarthritis but will instead slow its rate of progression and reduce your pain. If you discontinue use of the unloader brace at any time, the point of contact between thigh and shin bone will return to the original area. The ongoing damage to the menisci will then resume.
Best Knee Brace For Meniscus Tear – Conclusion
In this post, we have examined the question of the best knee brace to use for various types of meniscus tear injuries. However, although wearing a knee brace will be a step in the right direction, it is not a panacea. You may also find it helpful to employ other types of treatment for your meniscus tear injury. We suggest consulting a healthcare professional for medical advice on the appropriateness of these treatments to your particular condition.
In addition to wearing an appropriate knee brace, we suggest taking the following steps to treat your meniscus tear injury:
- Avoid activities that may stress your knee until the pain has gone. Activities that you should particularly avoid include running, jumping or other high impact pursuits;
- Apply ice or a cold pack to your knee for periods of 15-20 minutes and at intervals of 2-3 hours. Be careful to wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel before application to your skin;
- If your torn meniscus is due to knee osteoarthritis, it may be better to use moist heat therapy to relieve the pain.
- If your pain is intense, consider an over the counter pain relief medication such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (Ibuprofen);
- As your knee starts to improve, consult a physiotherapist. She will be able to devise a physical therapy program that will strengthen your knee ligaments and prepare it for a resumption of regular activity.