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Knee Brace 101: Different types of knee braces and how to choose the best one
5 Ways to Choose the Best Knee Brace
Unfortunately, at some point in an athletes career they suffer some sort of injury. Even if you are not an athlete most individuals have had some sort of injury or pain they have endured. Our knees play a vital role in running, jumping, walking and absorb twice the amount of force compared to our hips. Knees tend to be one of the most injured joints in sports especially when it comes to basketball and football. Knee braces can be worn for preventive measures, rehab protocols, reduce ligament injuries, supporting a knee during injury, arthritis, and patellofemoral issues. There are many different types of knee braces on the market and each one of them is designed for a specific reason. Here are five great ways to choose the best knee brace for your situation.
1. The Rehabilitative Brace
Are you rehabbing a knee injury or just had surgery? The sole purpose of this type of brace is to protect an injured knee or surgically repaired knee. These braces are designed for maximal support to create stability in the knee when muscles are weak from injury and/or surgery (1). One of the most common reason young athletes have to wear a brace is after ACL surgery. The brace is design to protect the graft and reduce the patient’s risk of re-injuring the knee. Another reason why surgeons like bracing after surgery is the feeling of security for the patient. This gives individuals a sense of protection of the knee which often leads to a decrease in risky behaviours that could cause a re-injury. Often after surgery your knee becomes significantly swollen. The swelling will inhibit the quadricep muscle making it difficult to walk. A knee brace comes in handy by protecting the knee allowing someone to walk with more confidence when the muscles are weak.
2. The Preventative Brace
Do you play college football or a sport where the opposing player tackles your knee? If you have seen a college or professional football game, you will have noticed that the offensive linemen are wearing bulky knee braces. These are protective knee braces to reduce ligament or meniscus tears because of frequent hits to the lower legs. While studies have shown inconsistency with knee braces in football, they have shown that wearing knee braces does not increase your risk for knee injuries (2). The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is the most at risk in football because of the players tackling from the outside lower leg which creates force to the inside ligaments (MCL). The functional knee brace has support bars on the side and provides the most stability to reduce severity of injury. Most studies have looked at if the brace prevents injury, but they haven’t look at if they reduce severity of ligament damage which is key.
3. The Arthritic Knee Brace
Do you suffer from osteoarthritis? The incidence of osteoarthritis is increasing and it is one of the most common chronic conditions (3). When someone has severe knee osteoarthritis eventually a total knee replacement is going to be an option. One remarkable technology advancement is the Unloading Knee brace. If someone has mild to severe knee osteoarthritis in one compartment of their knee either the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) an unloading knee brace can improve function, decrease pain and delay surgery. The Unloader One brace (Ossur) has the most published evidence and has a 3-point leverage system which is able to unload the affected compartment in mild to severe osteoarthritis. Latest research shows that the unloading knee brace has impact on quality of life, function and delays surgery (3).
4. The Compression Brace
Is your knee swollen and you don’t know what to do about it? One thing we know about an acute knee injury is that the inflammation period starts right away, and swelling begins. Compression becomes key at decreasing the excessive swelling in the knee. A compression brace allows for stability, compression, and reduction of swelling to allow someone to function with less discomfort. Some compression braces also have a builtin cold component which helps with inflammation. This allows someone to function and move around vs. sitting with an ice pack on their knee. We know that movement is necessary for healing and if you are sitting most of the time you will not get the adequate muscle pump that flushes out swelling. People can get low-activity work done without compromising knee integrity.
5. The Functional Knee Brace
Are you returning from an injury to your sport but aren’t fully confident in your knee? A functional knee brace can be an important step in an athlete’s return to their sport after a devastating injury. One thing we know is that a knee injury is both physically and mentally challenging to return from especially if you have had surgery to repair a ligament or meniscus. Athletes returning from ACL surgery often don’t feel the same until two years later, but they typically return to sport 9-12 months on the professional level and sometimes in high school/amateur level around 6 months. These are times that a functional knee brace could play a huge role when the athlete is not as confident with cutting and explosive movements. Theoretically, athletes should not be returning to their sport unless their knee is 100% and have past numerous amounts of return to sport testing. However, many athletes come back too early and re-injury can occur. Providing an athlete with a brace for practice and early stages of return could help their mindset and confidence to return to the game they love.
Knee injuries in general can be a devastating blow to athletes especially between the age group of 14-19 when they are still growing. Interesting enough the incidence rate of ACL injury higher among females to their male counterparts. Athletes recovering from ACL surgery can benefit from using the Zamst ZK-7 or Zamst ZK-X which is a comfortable neoprene knee brace providing maximum support for the knee. Whether you are trying to prevent ACL injuries or rehabbing from ACL surgery, protecting the knee during sports competition is important. Zamst provides a unique blend of comfort and support to keep you playing the sport you love. If you need help with choosing the best knee brace, the Zamst Brace Finder can guide you in finding the best knee brace to accommodate your needs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EVAN JEFFRIES is a physical therapist with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. He is also the owner of Evolving Motion and has vast knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and has treated many orthopaedic conditions by bringing a proactive approach to healthcare and lifestyle. Recently he has also been active on social media as an injury analyst mainly in related to injuries NBA players have sustained. Evan can be followed on his social media accounts.
1. Paluska SA, McKeag DB. Knee braces: current evidence and clinical recommendations for their use. Am Fam Physician2000;61:411-8, 423-4.
2. Salata M, Gibbs A, Sekiya J. The effectiveness of prophylactic knee bracing in American Football: A systematic review. Sports Health. 2010;2(5):375-379.
3. Mistry D, Chandratreya A, Lee Paul. An Update on Unloading Knee Braces in the Treatment of Unicompartmental Knee Osteoarthritis from the Last 10 Years: A Literature Review. Surg J (NY). 2018; 4(3):110-118.
4. Hewlett J, Kenney J. Innovations in functional and rehabilitative knee bracing. Ann Transl Med 2019;S248