Up to 70 percent of runners experience knee pain at some point.
The good news is that knee pain isn’t always serious and it can often be treated at home. With care and the right treatment, you can return to running soon after the knee injury.
Understanding how to choose a knee brace for running can be complicated, but it all depends on your needs. In some cases, a knee brace may even do more harm than good.
Let’s have a look at the types of knee braces and when to use them.
What is a knee brace?
The term “knee brace” is used to describe a variety of knee-specific devices. Their main purpose is to provide additional support to the knee joint, as well as relieve pain and promote recovery.
Some knee braces offer additional compression. Sometimes, athletes may wear a brace while working out to prevent injury.
What are knee braces made from?
Knee braces come in a variety of designs, sizes, and colors. They’re often made out of a combination of foam, metal, material, elastic knitted fabric, plastic, and straps.
Depending on the level of support you need, the combination of materials that the brace is made from will provide a strong structure, thermophysiological properties, and padding that will allow your skin to breathe.
When should you wear a knee brace?
If you experience pain in your knees or want to prevent injuries while participating in high-contact sports, then you can wear a knee brace. You can also wear a brace to prevent injuries while running.
In some cases, a medical practitioner may prescribe a knee brace as part of the rehab process; this is often for a knee injury where the ligaments are torn or for extensive meniscal tears.
What do knee braces do?
Wearing a knee brace can help you with your daily activities, let one resume an active lifestyle, and let you walk further without pain. The knee brace distributes the pressure within the knee while providing stability and pain relief.
If you’re recovering from an injury or experiencing tendonitis, you’ll find that a brace provides limited movement. This allows the joint to heal and recover while you gradually regain your range of motion.
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, then you’ll find that a knee brace helps to reduce inflammation and pain, while improving your ability to walk comfortably.
Who needs a knee brace?
Research has shown that 50% of running-related leg injuries directly affect the knee and a majority of runners experience knee pain from time to time. This could be caused by overtraining. Wearing a knee brace could help you recover.
If you’re experiencing Anterior Knee Pain—PFPS—Patella Tendinopathy, or if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain in your knees while running, then you may find using a knee brace to be beneficial.
Runners who are recovering from knee surgery or a knee injury may think about running with a knee brace, once you’re ready to run again. However, it would be best to consult with your doctor so that you can find a brace that provides the kind of support you need.
If you’ve been experiencing knee pain or discomfort but have only had a mild injury—for example, you slipped and fell—then you may find running with a brace beneficial.
You may consider wearing a knee brace to prevent future knee problems, especially if you’re experiencing mild pain and discomfort.
With that being said, it would be best to consult with your doctor before running with a knee brace, as this will allow you to establish if the knee pain is a minor or more serious issue.
Your medical practitioner will advise you as to which knee brace would provide the right amount of support to prevent an injury or the kind of brace that would provide the adequate level of protection for your needs.
Levels of protection
Knee braces offer various degrees of support. Depending on your needs, you’ll have to choose a level of support ranging from 1 to 3+.
Level 1 Brace
A knee brace with level 1 support is best for mild to moderate support, as well as providing pain relief.
As an example, a knee sleeve that has compression properties would provide level 1 protection. This brace is best used for minor sprains, mild pain, bursitis, tendonitis, and arthritis.
Level 2 Brace
Level 2 braces are slightly less flexible than the level 1 braces. You’ll find that a level 2 brace will still allow for a range of motion. It provides mild to moderate knee support and can be used to relieve pain from chronic conditions and reduce swelling.
This type of brace is best used for minor to moderate ligament instabilities and for treating conditions like tendonitis. For example, knee straps and wraparound—or dual—braces would generally provide level 2 protection.
Level 3 Brace
With a level 3 brace, your movement will be limited but it provides the most support. Braces that offer level 3 protection do tend to be heavier, like a hinged knee brace.
These types of braces are best for people who have moderate to major instabilities or when the knee movement needs to be limited to prevent re-injury, like after a surgery when the knee needs to heal.
Level 3+ Brace
Braces that fall into this category are best used for major joint instabilities, therapeutic recovery and can be used for post-surgical joint protection.
These braces offer the maximum amount of support and are normally prescribed by medical practitioners or physical therapists.
Types of Knee Braces
While knee sleeves aren’t exactly a knee brace, they do provide support and can be thought of as a “minimalist brace”.
Knee sleeves provide compression and are available in various sizes. These are the most common type of knee support that you’ll find on runners, athletes, and people who lead an active lifestyle.
Knee sleeves slip right over the knee and help to reduce swelling and they can alleviate mild pain after a run. They’re flexible and you’ll find that you have a full range of motion while wearing one.
Wraparound or Dual-Wrap Braces
Wraparound or dual-wrap braces are slightly thicker and firmer than a knee sleeve, but still, have enough flexibility to allow a normal range of motion when running.
These braces provide more support than a knee sleeve and would work best for runners who are dealing with mild to moderate knee pain.
You’ll also find that putting on and taking off the braces are easy to do and they can be worn over or under clothing.
Hinged Knee Braces
Hinged knee braces are most often used once one has had surgery and they provide a higher level of support and protection.
The hinged brace helps limit movement and the hinges on either side help prevent hyperextension of the knee. This ensures that the knee stays in the proper alignment and ligaments are protected, allowing the knee to heal.
A Knee Strap
If you’ve been experiencing knee pain or patella tendonitis—runner’s knee—or patella tracking, then you may find using a knee strap to be beneficial.
The knee strap helps to take the stress off of the patellar tendon, which can reduce the pain.
Closed and Open Patella Braces
Both the open and closed patella braces will provide support. The biggest difference between them is that the open patella brace has a hole in the center that provides relief from knee pressure while providing extra support for the kneecap.
This also helps to prevent abnormal tracking of the patella, ensuring that it remains in proper alignment with the rest of the knee joint.
Closed patella braces cover the entire knee and provide compression to the knee cap that’s at the same pressure as the rest of the knee. This brace provides additional support to your knee.
When should runners not wear a knee brace?
While knee braces have their benefits, they’re not going to be able to fix all knee pain or knee conditions. When you have constant knee pain, persistent swelling, or difficulty bending or straightening your knee, you should see a doctor.
If you’ve experienced a severe injury where you may have torn the ligaments or have a severe sprain, then you shouldn’t wear a knee brace.
It’s far better to rest your leg and look for low-impact, cross-training activities that you can do that won’t cause further injury to your knee.
It may seem like a good idea to wear a knee brace as a preventative measure so that you can protect your knees. But using a brace can cause your body’s natural structure—muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones—to either weaken or become impaired. This can lead to further injuries in the future.
Tips for using a knee brace
A knee brace is a great tool for runners who are recovering from a knee injury or who are experiencing knee pain and who still want to run. But there are a few things that one needs to take into consideration before getting a knee guard.
The first thing is to ensure that you choose the right level of protection for your knee. The brace that you choose will depend on the level of pain in your knee, if you’ve had an injury or if you’re looking for more support, as well as the support level you need.
The knee brace should be a snug and comfortable fit but it shouldn’t restrict your blood flow, exacerbate the pain or symptoms or cause numbness or swelling.
Most knee braces do offer compression, but again it should be a comfortable fit. You want to feel the compression, but it shouldn’t feel like it’s cutting off your circulation or feel too tight.
To make sure that your knee brace is going to be the correct fit for you, put the brace on and then try to slide two fingers under the strap.
If you can slide your fingers under the strap comfortably then the brace is a good fit. If you can’t slide two fingers under the strap, then loosen the strap slightly and then try again.