Knee pain is a problem many of us will experience at some time or another. The results of a study of Korean adults aged 50 or over as reported by the US National Institutes Of Health indicated that 46.2% of the subjects interviewed had experienced knee pain, aching or stiffness for a month or more at some time in their lives. Women in the study were more likely to have experienced knee pain (58% of them vs 32.2% of the male subjects). With such a high prevalence of knee pain, it is likely that many individuals have asked themselves at one time “how does a knee brace help with knee pain?”. In this post, we set out to provide some brief answers to this question.
Please note that a definitive answer to the question of whether a knee brace can help you, and if so, which knee brace you should choose, can only be made after an examination by your healthcare advisor. There are many different designs of knee brace and each is focused on a particular cause of pain. However, it is easy to misinterpret the meaning of the knee pain you are experiencing, and an incorrect choice of knee brace may make your injury worse.
There are also some potential causes of knee pain that cannot be helped by wearing a knee brace. If you are suffering from one of these conditions, your doctor will be able to advise what course of treatment will be most appropriate for you.
Types Of Knee Pain
In what follows below, we will briefly describe the nature of the most commonly experienced types of knee pain and accompanying symptoms. We will also suggest a type of knee brace that may be able to help with each type of pain. As we have stated above, these are only suggestions and a final recommendation should come from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.
Pain Just Under The Knee
One of the most common types of knee pain, particularly among physically active teenagers, occurs just below the kneecap. This type of pain also tends to intensify during physical activity, especially when plenty of running or jumping is involved.
The most usual cause of this pain is a condition known as Runner’s Knee or (more technically) as patellar tendonitis. It occurs when the patellar tendon that connects your kneecap to your shinbone (tibia) becomes inflamed as a result of the stresses of running or jumping. You may be able to help treat this type of knee pain using a type of knee brace called a knee strap that you wear just below your knee. It will apply some compression to the patellar tendon and help to reduce the pain you are experiencing. Don’t forget to also use a cold compress or over the counter pain medication (e.g. aspirin) if your doctor also prescribes these remedies.
Pain On The Outer Side Of The Knee
A common cause of pain on the outer side of your knee is IT (Iliotibial) Band Syndrome. Individuals who do a lot of running, cycling or other activities that require repeated knee bending are at risk of this condition.
The cause is a band of tissue (the iliotibial band) that runs from your pelvis to your shinbone. As your knee flexes and extends, this band of tissue moves from the back of the thighbone to its front and back again. As it does so, it passes over the bony prominence on the outer knee. A tight iliotibial band causes friction as it passes over this prominence, and this friction eventually leads to pain and irritation. A telltale sign of this condition is that the pain at the outer knee is not accompanied by knee swelling.
The knee brace that can help with this type of knee pain is another type of knee strap, worn above the knee instead of below it (as with Runner’s Knee). This strap will help to restrict the movement of the band and therefore reduce knee pain and irritation. Once again, you should also include other remedies suggested by your doctor (e.g. rest, icing and elevation of your knee) as parts of a comprehensive treatment approach.
Pain At The Front Of Your Knee Together With Clicking Or Popping
Another type of knee pain that you may experience may occur at the front of your knee. If it intensifies when performing activities that require knee bends (e.g. squatting, kneeling or climbing stairs) and is accompanied by a popping, grinding or clicking sound or sensation during knee flexes or extensions, you may have a patellar tracking problem.
Your patella (or kneecap) is supposed to reside in a narrow groove (the trochlear groove) at the bottom of your thighbone. In a healthy knee, this groove constrains the kneecap to move vertically up and down the thigh as your knee bends or unbends. However, if the patella shifts laterally (from left to right or vice versa) during knee bends or unbends, this can cause knee pain at the front of your knee together with the other symptoms we have described above.
To help treat this type of knee pain, your doctor may suggest a type of knee brace called a patella stabilizer. It normally has a buttress that surrounds the patella and keeps it in its proper position while you walk, run or jump.
Knee Pain Accompanied By A “Giving Way” Feeling
If you are experiencing pain at the front of your knee together with an occasional feeling that your knee is “giving way” beneath you and cannot support your weight, you may be suffering from knee ligament damage.
Your knee joint is supported by four strong pieces of tissue – 2 passing though its centre, one running along the inside of the knee and one along the outside. Their role is to prevent knee displacement to the middle of the body or away from it (i.e. preserving lateral stability). If the ligaments are overstretched or torn, you may experience knee pain together with the “giving way” sensation mentioned above. The severity of this type of injury can range from a knee sprain due to overstretched ligaments to torn LCL, ACL, MCL or PCL ligaments.
A hinged knee brace can help treat this type of injury and reduce the knee pain it produces. The hinges of the brace will support the ligaments in their job of maintaining lateral knee stability. This will allow those ligaments to rest and recover naturally, together with the other remedies that your doctor may prescribe.
Knee Pain Accompanied By A “Locking” Feeling
Your knee pain may occur together with a feeling that you are blocked from fully straightening your knee. If so, the cause may be one or more tears in the menisci (C shaped pieces of cartilage between your thighbone and shinbone and serve as shock absorbers between the two bones). This injury is usually the result of forceful and sudden knee twisting or rotation and frequently occurs while playing contact sports like football or basketball.
To help treat this type of knee pain, your doctor may prescribe a hinged knee brace with extremely rigid hinges such as the Bio Skin Gladiator knee brace.
Knee Pain & Stiffness Upon Awakening
Your knee pain may also be accompanied reduced range of motion of your knee joint. If you also notice that the pain is greatest upon awakening in the morning or after lying or sitting down for a period, you may have a case of knee osteoarthritis. This is the result of deterioration of cartilage that sits between the bones of the knee (the thighbone, kneecap and shinbone), causing the bones to come into contact with each other and resulting in significant knee pain.
The knee brace that can help reduce this type of knee pain is called an unloader knee brace. It will shift the point of contact between the knee bones away from an area with cartilage deterioration to one with healthier cartilage. This will help to restore the normal cushioning between the knee bones and ease the arthritic pain. One example of such a brace is the BioSkin OA Spiral (pictured to the right).
How Does A Knee Brace Help With Knee Pain – Summary
In this post we have explained how knee braces can help with various types of knee pain. As we have mentioned above, you should check with your doctor in any case to be sure of the type of injury you have and how to treat it.