Knees are one of the most hard-working joints in the body. Not only are they an essential part of movement and exercising, they also support nearly all of your body weight every time you stand and walk. Knees do a lot more work than most of us realize, which is why it’s so hard to leave them alone when recovering from an injury, a surgery, or to rest your knees from an ongoing strain. You can put your wrist in a brace, prop your arm in a sling, but you need your knees to get around just to do basic things like getting dressed, making food, and moving around each day.
So when something happens that causes daily knee pain, you notice it. Many sports and work injuries can damage the knees in a way that takes a long time to heal or always leaves you with a higher likelihood of knee pain. Others develop chronic joint issues like osteoarthritis that can trigger daily knee pain. You may be looking at a few months of pain during an injury recovery or years of pain management ahead of you. But one thing is for sure: The right knee brace can do a lot to ease the pain you experience.
Finding the Right Knee Brace
When you’re looking for a knee brace, you will quickly discover that there is a very wide variety of designs and features. Each type of brace is designed to help with a different kind of knee injury or condition. And each has a different potential to ease the pain you are experiencing. Some provide compression and warmth, others provide rigid support that can hold a weakened joint in place. Some even provide targeted pressure to ease specific tendon or nerve pain.
The best thing about finding the right brace for you is the ability to choose. With custom knee braces, you can even create a unique brace that suits exactly your medical needs. But first, you need to determine the kind of brace that can help you.
To assist with this, we’ve put together an examination of the different types of knee brace. With every type, you’ll find a description of the brace, the conditions it was designed for, and how the brace might ease your knee pain.
Immobilization Knee Braces
Most people don’t realize this, but you don’t actually need a plaster cast to immobilize your knee after a bad injury. The most rigid kind of knee brace is an immobilization knee brace. And it does exactly what the name sounds like.
An immobilizer knee brace is made to hold your knee in exactly one neutral position, usually extended just like a cast would. However, unlike a cast, immobilization braces can be removed for temporary treatment, washing, and itch-relief. They are also much sleeker than a plaster cast.
These braces are often surprisingly lightweight, made of cloth and neoprene foam. The immobilization is created by wrapped metal bands that makes the brace rigid. These bands gently but firmly hold your knee in place so that you don’t have to worry about movement during the healing process.
Immobilization braces are best for people who have recently had a serious knee injury and are looking for a plaster cast alternative. You may use an immobilization knee brace instead of a cast or after the cast is removed for temporary security during sleep or daily activities.
Hinged Knee Braces
A hinged knee brace is an interesting compromise design that provides both rigidity and mobility. Hinge knee braces are built to allow your knee to swing safely forward and back in the optimal track without putting your knee at risk of harmful insecure movements. Just going forward and back, a hinge brace will prevent your knee from hyper-extending and kicking forward too far and will prevent you from folding too tightly and stretching your knee during recovery.
Even more helpfully, for many, is the hinge brace’s protection against side motions. After a knee injury, it can be all too dangerous for your knee to twist or turn to the side in a way it was not meant to. If your knees are loose or healing, a hinge brace can give you the security to move around without worrying about stepping wrong or accidentally reinjuring yourself.
The most thing about the hinge knee brace is your ability to walk while wearing one. Hinge braces provide the most structural support and rigid protection of your knee while still allowing you to walk and even exercise within the bounds of normal healthy knee movements. Hinge braces are useful for a number of injuries and long-term knee conditions.
Compression Knee Braces
Compression braces are by far the most popular and commonly used. This is because they are useful for such a wide variety of conditions, injuries and prevention purposes. A compression brace is essentially a stretchy shaped cylinder of padded neoprene. As a knee brace, it may have a wider or softer area for your kneecap or a whole for the kneecap allowing for greater mobility.
Compression knee braces have a number of benefits, starting with the distribution of pressure. When you stand, walk, and lean on your knees, pressure is put onto the joint and the surrounding tissue. A compression brace takes that pressure and distributes it to stronger long bone and muscle tissue to reduce direct pressure on your knees.
They also provide heat and gentle pressure which are both keys to easing knee joint pain. The neoprene wrap keeps your knee warm, relaxing the tissue and promoting blood flow which speeds up healing. As your muscles and tendons relax, any pain caused by tension will ease. And sometimes, the compression itself presses your tissues together in a comforting, almost massaging way that can help to relieve pain caused by too much
Finally, compression braces are often used as a tool for injury prevention. They can provide a small amount of additional support to a weakened joint and serve as a tangible reminder to be careful with your form during exercise and work efforts.
Strap and Band Braces
Knee pain can come from a large number of causes. It could be related to the kneecap, the muscles around the knee, a bad bruise, a tendon sprain, or a mechanical malfunction inside the structure of the knee. One issue that is most common with younger athletes is patellar tendonitis. This is an injury to the tendon that connects the kneecap to the patella (shin bone).
The patellar tendon is key to extending the leg, therefore any athlete that does a great deal of running and leaping is more likely to strain this particular tendon. And once you have patellar tendinitis, it becomes far more painful to perform any task requiring the extension of your leg.
What’s interesting is that you may not need a full wrapping brace for this condition. A patellar strap or band is designed to put gentle supportive pressure on the space between your patella and your kneecap, easing the tension on the healing tendon. This can simultaneously ease the pain you experience when bending and extending your leg.
Wrap-Around Knee Braces
After the compression brace, wrap-around braces are the second most popular. These braces are made of rigid cloth and plastic, sometimes braced with padded metal bands on the inside. Rather than being a continuous ring like a compression brace, a wrap-around brace opens on one side, allowing you to fasten the brace around the knee and tighten it to the configuration you prefer most.
Many people keep an average adult-sized wrap-around knee brace in their first aid kit because it is a great universal brace to have. The right wrap-around brace will have some padding on the inside and allow someone who has been injured to be safely moved or even continue the day’s activities after a minor to moderate knee injury. Wrap-around knee braces are also great for managing your own sprain or strain treatment because it can be adjusted tightly to hold your knee in a padded but rigid position or loosened to provide casual protection during the last stages of recovery.
A wrap-around brace is also a good training tool for preventing additional injury to a knee. If you have a history of injuries or feel that your knee is weak to injury, a wrap-around brace can provide additional support to prevent your knee from hyper-extending or twisting to the side.
Padded Knee Brace
Finally, some knee pain comes not from standing pressure, but pressure that occurs while kneeling. There are a number of activities like gardening, home maintenance, and child care that involve kneeling and sitting on your knees for several hours a day. If often experience knee pain while kneeling, the ideal solution may be a pair of padded knee braces rather than compression or hinged braces.
Pads can also be added to other braces if kneeling is a concern to an existing knee problem. This means that almost any kind of knee brace can be turned into a padded knee brace. Or you can find a pair of knee braces that offer the support you need to get up and down as well as pads to make your time kneeling easier.
Which kind of knee brace is right for you? Check with your doctor, physical therapist, and your own personal experiences to find out. For more information about finding the right knee brace for you, contact us today!