Ask any seasoned athlete what area of their body gives them the most fits, and you’re likely to hear about their knees at some point early on in the conversation. The knee joint takes a lot of stress and work in normal physical activities, and on top of that, is one of the most highly injured joints in the human body.
The knee is normally a relatively stable joint – meaning it has limited mobility in the sense that it only moves like a hinge – compared to the nearest joints both above and below, the hip and ankle. Because of this, the knee can get injured when it is “asked” to take on more mobility or stress than it should, such as twisting, high impact, or muscular imbalances causing chronic wear and tear.
As with any injury, the first step is always rest, and reach out to a medical professional, such as a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor, if symptoms don’t improve within a few days of rest.
Usually, treatment for knee pain starts with a combination of physical therapy and knee brace support. However, there are a few different options when it comes to a knee brace, and each type of knee brace is designed to support a particular knee issue. This will best be assigned by your medical professional, but let’s have a closer look at the most popular options, what they are for, and how to find the right fit.
The Big 3 Braces
The three most common types of knee braces are a simple sleeve, a wraparound brace and a wraparound hinge brace – which each options proving more support and stability respectively.
The most basic variety is a simple knee sleeve. This is a flexible, yet compressive, material sleeve that should fit snuggly around the knee. It often works best for osteoarthritis and also can provide extra support to previously injured knees during activity. A good product to look into is the Hybrid knee sleeve.
The next level up is a soft wraparound knee brace. This brace provides more stability, and often times also helps stabilize around the sides of the knee, and the knee cap more. It helps with meniscus injuries and more severe knee issues above arthritis. A very popular brace is Mueller Sports Medicine’s self adjusting knee stabilizer.
The most heavy duty brace is a hinged brace. These range from moderate to full support depending on the injury. Often, you will see athletes wearing full hinge braces after major knee injures such as ligament tears, or knee reconstruction. Mueller Sports Medicine has a triaxal hinged knee brace, an innovation which was designed to effectively provide support, stability and comfort. With this brace, the goal is often to transition out of it to a simpler brace, because using this brace too long can cause muscle atrophy – muscle loss – in the affected leg because the body will begin to rely on the brace too much compared to rebuilding supporting musculature.
How Tight Should a Knee Brace Be? Finding the Right Fit.
For all three types of knee braces, they should be snug to the point of providing support and stability, but not so tight that you are cutting off circulation. If you notice numbing or tingling in your leg, your brace is too tight.
If you are unsure, it is always best to consult your therapist or doctor on the proper fit.
When To Use a Knee Brace
Always follow a doctor’s orders – but the goal should be to work your way out of the more heavy duty braces. If you are sitting, resting , sleeping or even just walking around and your issue isn’t severe, you shouldn’t be wearing your brace.
Use your brace when you are more active, especially working out, playing sports or even doing more manual labor around work or home.
If the brace provides the extra support that it should, you should continue wearing it during physical activities – but that doesn’t mean you should stop working on strengthening your legs!
Make sure you are approved to resume training (with the watchful eye of a PT or trainer) and work on squats, single leg stability movements, and posterior chain exercises to strengthen all lower body muscles around, above and below the knee. Strong muscles make for stable joints.
Knee braces can be very helpful, affordable and provide manageable ways to return to doing the things that you love. As always, consult with your doctor or PT on finding the best brace and fit for you and your personal needs.