A common misconception among folks with sore knees is that they should be able to locate and wear a knee brace that will immediately reduce their pain/discomfort.  Of course, having no knee pain would be an ideal result from a brace,  but not all knee braces are designed with pain relief at the forefront.

The primary functions of most of today’s knee braces are to provide support/stability to an unstable knee joint or to change the alignment of a particular less-than-ideally aligned component of the knee joint.   Improved support and alignment can reduce the chance of future degenerative joint changes.   AND – a potential bonus to wearing a knee brace is a reduction in pain.

Some knee braces are more likely than others to reduce knee pain.  For example, a brace with a solid hinge designed and worn to support the medial knee joint (for a torn medial collateral ligament), may also end up reducing medial knee joint pain.   Similarly, a brace that helps to change the position of an improperly tracking patella (knee cap) can also provide pain relief of the cartilage between the patella and the femur.  

Most common types of knee braces:

Patellar tracking brace:

Usually, a sleeve created of neoprene or a similar stretchy fabric

Two common options:

A.  one that changes the alignment of the patella by pulling it in a different direction (usually medially, for patellar femoral syndrome or patellar tendinitis)

B.  one with a buttress/reinforcement to hold the patella in place (for a dislocating/subluxing patella)

Ligament Brace

  • Provide support to the knee joint not provided by compromised ligaments
  • Choices are off-the-shelf (OTS) or custom (more expensive but better fit ensured)
  • Both OTS and custom can be constructed with a solid/hard shells or stays, increasing support by decreasing the potentially harmful movement that an unstable knee joint provides
  • A less expensive OTS option is a soft shell (often neoprene) sleeve with metal hinges
  • A wrap around style of OTS (versus a pull on sleeve) is often easier to get into position
  • Typically, you get what you pay for!

Osteoarthritis brace:

  • Often custom, but can be off-the-shelf
  • The only ones worth considering have solid/hard shells to effectively change the alignment of the lateral or medial knee joint
  • Designed to “unload” one side of the joint to decrease further degeneration (and potentially pain)

Compression sleeve

  • Tight fitting sleeve to offer general compression but mild stability of the joint
  • Can help diffuse swelling and increase confidence with mild support
  • often has reduced compression over patella to avoid articular cartilage irritation
  • The best ones offer medical grade (15-20 mmHg) compression and require a bit of effort to slip on

Since there are a variety of indications for a knee brace, health professionals need to have a solid understanding of the condition and symptoms of the individual requesting the brace.  The more information identified, the better the chance of providing the safest and most effective knee brace possible.