A knee brace (or support or splint) can play a critical role in reducing knee pain and helping the joint recover from various types of injury.
The knee comprises three bones – the femur (thigh bone), the tibia (shinbone) and the kneecap. The entire joint is held together by 2 cruciate ligaments that pass through the centre of the joint and also by two collateral ligaments situated on the inside and outside of the joint. A patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the tibia.In addition, there are 2 C shaped pieces of cartilage between the thigh bone and the tibia (known as menisci). These bones, ligaments and tendons are all illustrated in the diagram to the left.
However, there is a vast variety of braces available on the market today. If a medical professional has advised you to wear a knee brace, you may be in need of additional guidance as to which is the best for you.
What Type Of Support Can A Knee Brace Provide?
Knee braces can provide either lateral support or kneecap support. Lateral support protects the knee joint against forces that can push it either inwards (towards the centre of the body) or outwards (away from the centre).
As we have explained above, the knee already possesses four ligaments to protect against such forces (see the diagram at the start of this page). However, if these ligaments are overstretched, torn or ruptured, a knee brace can supplement the protection they provide and allow them to heal more quickly than they otherwise would.
Knee braces can also provide patellar support (i.e. support to the kneecap). The kneecap sits in a narrow groove in the thigh bone known as the trochlear groove. Some types of knee disorders can result in the kneecap being unable to remain centrally positioned in the groove. Instead, the kneecap may tilt either to the inner or outer side of the knee.
Knee braces can provide direct patellar support by keeping the kneecap centrally positioned and preventing this tilt.
How Else Can A Knee Brace Reduce Knee Pain?
In addition to patellar or lateral support, some knee braces can provide direct compression to the joint to control pain and/or inflammation. In some cases, the compression is needed not directly to the joint but to a specific area just above or below it.
For example, the patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the tibia and can sometimes become injured or inflamed (for example, if you develop a case of patellar tendinitis). In this situation, it can be therapeutic to apply compression to the tendon to stabilize it and reduce the pain.
Knee braces can also, in some cases, change the point of contact between the thighbone (femur) and the shinbone (tibia). This is useful if the cartilage between these bones has deteriorated for one reason or another and you are starting to experience pain as the two bones make direct contact with each other.
Finally, a knee brace (or splint) can also provide soothing warmth for additional pain relief if it uses neoprene or some other heat retentive material.
Choosing The Best Knee Brace Design
When selecting a knee splint, we suggest that you ask yourself whether you are looking for a brace to provide support and, if yes, the type of support you will need (lateral or kneecap) and the amount of support.
Essentially, there are six types of knee brace design – hinged knee braces, knee stabilizers, knee compression sleeves , knee straps, patella stabilizers and unloader knee braces.
Hinged Knee Braces
Hinged knee braces offer the strongest lateral support possible while allowing your knee to maintain the most natural range of motion. Importantly, hinged braces can also protect the knee joint against hyperextension (excessive straightening of the joint, placing stress on the back of the knee joint). This type of knee brace is most useful in combating injuries like severe knee ligament sprains or damage to the knee menisci. They can also be useful in speeding recovery post surgery to correct knee problems such as a completely ruptured ligament.
Knee stabilizers use metal springs or plastic stays on either side of the knee to provide another form of lateral support. However, this support is not as strong as that provided by hinged braces. In addition, knee stabilizers cannot, in general, protect against knee hyperextension. If you have a mild knee ligament sprain or suffer from knee joint instability, this type of knee support may be the most appropriate for your injury.
In general, stabilizing knee braces are a little more comfortable and lightweight than hinged knee braces.If you have injured your knee in the past and are looking for a knee brace to provide more support while you participate in sport or work out, this type of brace may again be appropriate.
Knee Compression Sleeves
Knee compression sleeves do not provide any significant lateral or kneecap support but instead apply general compression to the knee joint. Like knee stabilizers, you may find them appropriate for injury prevention during physical activity or for treating mild general knee injuries. Many knee sleeves also retain body heat and can serve as a source of therapeutic warmth to the knee, particularly if they are made from neoprene.
Knee straps offer no lateral or kneecap support but can help provide targeted compression to relieve certain conditions. As we have mentioned above, patellar tendinitis is one such condition. IT Band Syndrome (when compression is required just above the knee joint) is another.
Patella stabilizers possess a buttress that surrounds the knee cap to keep it properly oriented and prevent patella tracking problems such as partial or complete dislocation, tilt or glide. In some cases, this feature may be incorporated in one of the other types of design e.g. some hinged knee braces also have a patella stabilization feature.
Unloader Knee Braces
As mentioned above, unloader knee braces are designed to shift the point of contact between the femur (thighbone) and the tibia (shin bone). This type of brace is useful in combating a type of knee arthritis known as osteoarthritis in which the cartilage between the bones deteriorates. It is also useful in treating meniscus tear injuries, which can sometimes have osteoarthritis as the root cause. Shifting the point of contact to an area with healthy cartilage can be effective in reducing knee osteoarthritis pain.
What Other Knee Brace Design Considerations Are There?
In addition to the type or degree or compression of support from your brace, you should also give some thought to the type of closure mechanism. In addition, you should also consider whether you would prefer an open or closed patella design.
There are two types of knee splint closure mechanisms to choose from – slip on and wraparound. While slip ons are usually sized, wraparound braces are usually more adjustable and can be placed either in front of or behind the knee. If you suffer from compromised manual dexterity or strength, you may prefer the wraparound design. In some cases, the wraparound design is more adaptable to unusual knee shapes or sizes.
Open vs. Closed Patella
Another important categorization is open vs. closed patella. Closed patella braces provide the same amount of compression to the knee cap as to the remainder of the knee. Open patella braces are more comfortable and will also relieve pressure on the patella.
Correct sizing of your knee splint or brace is extremely important. Each will come with specific instructions as to the measurements you need to make for a proper fit. We suggest you follow these closely. If your measurements place you in between sizes, we suggest you choose the larger of the two.
The extra long Mueller Sports Medicine Knee Sleeve – Closed Patella delivers even compression and soothing warmth to reduce arthritic pain and help heal repetitive stress injuries of the knee. Replaces the 424 Closed Patella Knee Sleeve
The Bio Skin CrossFire™ ROM protects the ACL, MCL and other knee ligaments by providing additional stability with its new SlimLok hinge. It also reduces unwanted knee joint bending and twisting. A compressive single layer section around the knee and a pre-tensioned area that prevenst bunching behind the knee rounds off an ultra comfortable knee brace with applications for pain reduction, healing and rehabilitation.
The Mueller Sports Medicine Elastic Knee Stabilizer uses steel springs and a lightweight elastic stabilizer to help provide bilateral support to both sides of your knee. The Elastic Knee Stabilizer has an open patella that helps ease pressure on your kneecap. You can buy the Elastic Knee Stabilizer in sizes Small/Medium and Large/X-Large. Please consult…
The Mueller Sports Medicine Elastic Knee Support, Black uses an elastic and lightweight fabric to firmly support your knee joint. In doing so, it also allows an unrestricted range of motion. The Elastic Knee Support has a contoured design that helps it to adhere closely to your knee and prevents slippage and bunching in the…
The McDavid Elite Engineered Elastic Dual Wrap Knee Brace w/ Support Stays uses engineered elastics, an adjustable dual wrap and several other features to produce a knee brace that will stabilize and secure your knee with optimal comfort.
The Bio Skin Gladiator uses a rigid hinge for knee ligament protection and is a useful brace to use after knee reconstruction. The brace has a rigid strapping system that securely anchors it to your leg and avoids the need for more costly braces. You can also adjust the range of motion using pins to limit the degree of flexion and/or extension.
The Bio Skin Gladiator – Front Closure uses a rigid hinge to effectively protect knee ligaments, including during the post reconstruction phase. The brace uses a rigid strapping system to firmly anchor itself to your leg and avoid the need for more expensive knee braces. The brace uses an easy on/off front closure design and has pins for the hinges that you can set to control the degree of flexion and/or extension.
The Mueller Sports Medicine Hg80 Hinged Knee Brace is made of extremely comfortable fabric with maximum medial-lateral support to help protect weak or injured knees. Mueller-exclusive HydraCinn® fabric, Triaxial Hinges, tibial containment system, inner anti-slip strips, flatlock seams, form-fitting hourglass design, fully adjustable and comfortable fit.
With the Mueller Sports Medicine Hg80 Knee Brace, you get the support you need without hampering your flexibility. A great choice to help control sublaxating patellas or to help support stiff, sore or unstable knees.
The Mueller Sports Medicine Hg80 Knee Stabilizer is an ultra comfortable knee support that uses Mueller’s HydraCinn fabric. HydraCinn is a latex and neoprene free moisture wicking material with an antimicrobial barrier. The Knee Stabilizer has steel springs on either side of the knee to provide stability while permitting knee flexion and extension. You will have all the support you need without any restriction of your range of motion. An excellent choice to help you control a sublaxating patella or to provide support for a stiff, sore or unstable knee.
The Mueller Sports Medicine Hg80 Knee Support is made from lightweight performance materials to help improve all stages of your athletic activity. You will experience less pain and greater security and stability during your warm-up and cool down. These phases will all benefit from the support and extreme comfort of the Hg80 Knee Support. This…
The Bio Skin Hinged Knee Skin – Front Closure uses offset, bi-centric aluminium hinges to conform to the contours of differing leg shapes and provide extra knee support. In addition, it has a hook & loop front closure design to simplify application and removal and to help it accommodate a wide variety of leg shapes.
The McDavid Hyperblend Knee Sleeve w/Buttress & Stays pairs the supportive qualities of neoprene and the compression and comfort of knit material to produce a lightweight design with superior compression to neoprene.
The Mueller Sports Medicine Jumper’s Knee Strap boasts a tube shaped insert that helps to improve patellar tracking. The insert also provides concentrated mild pressure on your patellar tendon just below your kneecap. The Jumper’s Knee Strap will relieve pain that may result from frequent and intense running and jumping. The Knee Strap comes in…
The McDavid Knee Brace With Dual Disk Hinges features an open centred 360˚ padded buttress to isolate and support your patella, as well as bound edges that help prevent irritation. In addition, a perforated back panel provides heat and moisture management and all-around comfort.
The McDavid Knee Brace With Polycentric Hinges uses bi-lateral geared polycentric hinges to provide you with stability and free movement. Its engineered top and bottom straps assure a customized and comfortable fit.
The McDavid Knee Sleeve employs their exclusive 5-needle stitch for a flatter, cleaner and stronger seam that reduces skin damage from wearing the sleeve. It also has a seamless back of knee design for additional comfort in that sensitive area, as well as an outer covering made from heavy duty nylon fabric for added durability.
The McDavid Knee Sleeve / Elastic compresses and supports weak or injured soft tissues. It uses an elastic construction that allows your knee to breathe and is ideal for those with sensitive skin or neoprene allergies. The pull on design facilitates application and removal.