The Different Knee Braces for Pain and How to Know When You Need One (2024)

A knee brace is a support that can be worn to reduce knee pain, prevent injuries, and help you recover after an injury. Different types of knee braces are made a variety of materials and offer a range of knee joint support levels.

The right knee brace for your knee pain will depend on your condition. Your healthcare provider will recommend the type of brace that is right for you, and when you should wear a knee brace. While knee braces can be beneficial, sometimes using one can actually cause more harm than good.

This article discusses the different types of knee braces and what they are used for. It also details the do's and don'ts of wearing a knee brace for knee pain.

The Different Knee Braces for Pain and How to Know When You Need One (1)

Types of Knee Braces

The structures in your knee can become damaged or dislocated in an accident or due to a fall, and a knee brace might be needed as you heal. Your healthy knee joint can also be injured due to an intense blow during athletic activities. The knee may also be susceptible to an injury due to an underlying condition.

The different types of knee braces differ based on their function and level of support. Certain ones protect the knee to prevent damage, others support the knee to control pain. Some braces stabilize the knee if it's prone to injury, and some immobilize the knee to optimize healing after an injury.

In general, a knee brace should be selected based on the situation. The device should help manage and distribute the pressure around your knee.

Your knee joint includes bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. This joint has a considerable range of motion and carries a lot of weight. A knee brace is structured to reduce motion in a way that protects your knee in a way that matches your needs at a given time.

Prophylactic

A prophylactic knee brace, like a knee pad, is used to protect your knee if you are going to be in a situation with a high risk of having a knee injury, like in a contact sport where your knee is likely to be hit. These knee braces can be used even if you don't have any problem with your knee but want to take steps to protect it.

Prophylactic knee braces generally have padding, especially on the patellar bone, to shield your knee from damage due to direct impact.

Unloader

A knee unloader brace is typically used for controlling pain due to inflammatory conditions like tendonitis, knee osteoarthritis, patellofemoral or iliotibial band stress syndrome, and chondromalacia patellae (CMP). This type of brace helps shift the pressure and weight on your knee joint to reduce pain.

There are several types of unloader braces, such as:

  • A patellar motion control brace with a J-pad in the front to gently lift the patella can be used if you have patellar tendonitis.
  • Iliotibial band stress syndrome causes pain on the side of your knee and might be relieved with a smallbandaround the lower part of the knee joint. The band helps compress the iliotibial band where it inserts into your shin, decreasing the mechanical forces acting upon it.

Unloader knee braces are for comfort. They don't protect the knee from a direct impact or from overstretching. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist as you decide which type of unloader brace is most suited for your condition.

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Functional

A functional brace is used to stabilize the knee joint. In doing so, this brace can help prevent a knee injury if you are at high risk due to a structural issue in or around your knee, like weak ligaments or a tendency for knee dislocation.

There are different types of functional braces, and the best one for you depends on your knee problem and your anticipated activity.

Motion control brace: If you have sprained or overstretched the ligaments on the side of your knee, your healthcare provider may recommend a motion control brace. This is a neoprene sleeve with metal supports on the inside and outside that help support the ligaments. It's often used for activities that require pivoting, stopping/starting, or repetitive bending of the knee.

Patella control brace: If you've had a dislocated patella, patellofemoral stress syndrome, knee arthritis, or CMP, a patella control brace can be used to reduce motion of the bone. This type of brace is a neoprene sleeve worn over the knee. It has a cutout that exposes and holds the patella in place during activities like walking, running or squatting.

Rehabilitative

After knee surgery like ameniscus repairor ananterior cruciate ligament(ACL) repair, a knee brace may help immobilize the joint so it can heal properly. A Bledsoe brace or a knee immobilizer may be worn initially. After healing, a functional brace can be worn during athletic activity.

Bledsoe brace: A Bledsoe brace has straps that wrap around the thigh and shin and metal support brackets on the inside and outside of the knee joint. A small mechanism can lock the knee into full extension, where it stays for the initial period after surgery.

As healing progresses and more movement can be safely tolerated, the locking mechanism can be unlocked to allow the knee to bend a specified amount.

Knee immobilizer: A knee immobilizer is a long cloth brace that runs the length of the shin and thigh. It has metal support struts on the inside and outside parts of the brace; self-fastening straps hold the knee immobilized in place. The benefit of an immobilizer as compared to a plaster cast is that it can be removed to allow gentle motion during healing.

Consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before making any changes to the settings on your Bledsoe brace. Likewise, be sure to speak with one of these professionals before removing your knee immobilizer.

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Tips for Using a Knee Brace

Consistency can be an issue when it comes to getting the most out of your knee brace, and about 25% of people who wear one for a medical purpose report minor complications or problems with using their brace.

Reasons some people end up stopping wearing their knee brace include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Poor fit
  • Lack of relief
  • Discomfort when wearing it

The following can help you avoid these concerns.

Choose Wisely

Wearing the right brace and getting a good fit is key to ensuring you get the benefits from your brace that you seek and that the brace is as comfortable (and effective) as possible.

Your healthcare provider and/or physical therapist will guide you as to what type of support you need and how you should use it. They can also check the fit of your brace and determine if adjustments or a different size are needed.

Know What to Expect

Knowing what your knee brace is supposed to do for you can help you assess its effectiveness and help you use it the right way. Different knee braces may look similar, but the function doesn't always correspond to appearance. Talk with your healthcare provider or physical therapist and make sure you have an understanding of the purpose of your knee brace.

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When to Wear a Knee Brace

Wearing your brace when it is most likely to help, not just when you think you need it, can also help. You may need to wear your brace all day or just for certain activities. Wearing it too much or not enough can cause problems.

For example, wearing your brace for unnecessarily long stretches of time can cause skin abrasion. And letting it limit your activity for months on end if you don't have to can result in muscle atrophy (shrinking) or joint stiffness.

On the other hand, taking your brace off before your knee joint is ready can impair healing. And neglecting to wear it when you are susceptible to an injury means that you could end up with knee damage. Talk to your healthcare provider or therapist about whether you should wear your brace while:

  • Sleeping
  • Sitting
  • Driving
  • Walking
  • Stretching

When to Wear a Knee Brace

Contraindications

A knee brace isn't the right choice for everyone. Some medical conditions can make you susceptible to having adverse effects from wearing a knee brace. And in some cases, knee braces aren't effective at all.

If you have severe pain in your legs or diminished sensation, such as due to peripheral neuropathy, a knee brace might not be right for you. That's because you might not be able to sense a small cut or pressure from the brace, and a wound can worsen without you realizing it.

Vascular insufficiency may also make wearing a knee brace problematic. You might have diminished blood flow while wearing your knee brace, which could lead to long-term vascular issues.

You also need to be cautious if you have bone deformities or congenital bone malformations. The shape and structure of a knee brace may be standardized in a way that leads to joint damage if your knee joint is atypical in its structure.

A Word From Verywell

Knee braces can provide relief from discomfort and protect your knee from injuries in many different circumstances. It's important that you use your brace correctly and that you stay in touch with your healthcare provider or physical therapist about your changing needs so you can get the maximum benefit from wearing your brace.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • For how long should you wear a knee brace?

    It depends on the individual and the condition the brace is used for. Most people only need to wear the brace when doing certain activities or during a flare-up of pain or joint instability. Typically you won't need to wear the brace to sleep.

  • Should I wear a knee brace if my knee is swollen?

    If your knee is swollen, you may want to try a compression brace or a compression sleeve under your knee brace. If you are prone to swollen knees, talk to your doctor about the best approach for bracing your swollen knee.

  • What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee sleeve?

    A knee brace and knee sleeve are both used to support the knee joint. A knee brace is used to help with joint stability and provides more support than a sleeve. Knee sleeves typically provide compression, which helps with swelling.

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a vast amount of information on various topics, including knee braces. I can provide you with information based on my knowledge and the search results I have access to. Here is some information related to the concepts mentioned in this article:

Knee Braces: Overview and Types

A knee brace is a support that can be worn to reduce knee pain, prevent injuries, and aid in recovery after an injury. There are different types of knee braces made from a variety of materials, offering various levels of knee joint support [[1]].

The different types of knee braces are designed to serve different purposes based on their function and level of support. Here are some common types:

  1. Prophylactic Knee Brace: This type of knee brace is used to protect the knee from potential injuries, especially in high-risk situations such as contact sports. Prophylactic knee braces often have padding, particularly on the patellar bone, to shield the knee from direct impact [[1]].

  2. Unloader Knee Brace: Unloader knee braces are typically used to control pain caused by inflammatory conditions like tendonitis, knee osteoarthritis, patellofemoral or iliotibial band stress syndrome, and chondromalacia patellae. These braces help shift the pressure and weight on the knee joint to reduce pain. There are different types of unloader braces depending on the specific condition [[1]].

  3. Functional Knee Brace: Functional knee braces are used to stabilize the knee joint and prevent knee injuries, especially in individuals with structural issues like weak ligaments or a tendency for knee dislocation. There are different types of functional braces, such as motion control braces and patella control braces, depending on the specific knee problem and anticipated activity [[1]].

  4. Rehabilitative Knee Brace: Rehabilitative knee braces are used after knee surgery, such as meniscus repair or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repair, to immobilize the joint and aid in proper healing. Initially, a Bledsoe brace or knee immobilizer may be worn, and as healing progresses, a functional brace can be used during athletic activities [[1]].

Choosing and Using a Knee Brace

When selecting a knee brace, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist to determine the type of brace that is most suitable for your condition. They can guide you on the appropriate level of support and fit for your knee brace [[1]].

Here are some tips for using a knee brace effectively:

  1. Consistency: Consistently wearing the knee brace as recommended by your healthcare provider is important for maximizing its benefits. However, it is also essential to listen to your body and adjust usage if you experience discomfort or irritation [[1]].

  2. Choosing Wisely: Selecting the right brace and ensuring a good fit is crucial for comfort and effectiveness. Your healthcare provider or physical therapist can help you choose the appropriate brace and make any necessary adjustments [[1]].

  3. Knowing What to Expect: Understanding the purpose of your knee brace and its intended function can help you assess its effectiveness and use it correctly. Discuss the purpose of your knee brace with your healthcare provider or physical therapist to ensure you have a clear understanding [[1]].

  4. Wearing Schedule: Follow the recommended wearing schedule provided by your healthcare provider or therapist. Wearing the brace for the appropriate duration and during specific activities can help prevent complications and optimize healing [[1]].

  5. Contraindications: It is important to be aware of any contraindications for wearing a knee brace. Certain medical conditions, such as severe leg pain, diminished sensation, vascular insufficiency, or bone deformities, may make wearing a knee brace problematic or ineffective. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine if a knee brace is suitable for you [[1]].

Remember, the information provided here is based on general knowledge about knee braces. It is always best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and recommendations based on your specific condition.

I hope this information helps! Let me know if you have any further questions.

The Different Knee Braces for Pain and How to Know When You Need One (2024)

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