KNEE BRACES

All You Need To Know

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by Matthew Henderson, MPT

Masters of Physical Therapy

Updated: October 29th, 2022

Knee braces come in many varieties. Deciding which model best suites your needs can be difficult. To cut through the noise, we have reviewed models best-suited for a wide-range of individuals; from high-end athletes, to weekend warriors, to individuals just looking for less pain walking around the house. We also identified the knee conditions best suited for each brace. 

Please keep in mind these are just one tool in the toolbox. In our opinion, the best use of any brace is to facilitate movement and thus promoting a healthier lifestyle. The best brace in the world cannot replace a good exercise program or skilled clinician.

ONE LAST THING

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BRACES BY CONDITION

 

Meniscus Pain (Lateral and Medial)

Patellofemoral Pain

Osteoarthritis

Baker's Cyst

IT Band Syndrome

Patellar Tendonitis

ACL Sprain

MCL/LCL Sprain

COMPRESSION BRACE

Lightweight, slip-on sleeves for minor knee pain

WHO

Recommended for individuals with minor knee pain looking for a minimalist/light multi-functional brace. 

FOR WHAT

  • Minor Meniscus Pain (General, Medial or Lateral)

  • Baker's Cysts

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Generalized joint pain

  • Pain reduction with normal daily activities

  • Active individuals: Basketball, jogging, CrossFit, cycling, tennis, hiking etc

 

WHY WE LIKE IT

The Neenca Professional Compression Sleeve for Men and Women led the pack in this category. An anatomically countoured gel pad surround the kneecap and double-sided stabilizers fit snugly around the knee joint. These elements appeared to strengthen side support and help maintain joint stability. Allows for full range-of-motion while helping the wearer feel supported. It is our choice for pain recovery and sport protection.

Easy to slip on and off, the air knit fabric promotes breathability and comfort, while remaining dry during periods of increased activity. We did note this knee brace is a bit thicker than other sleeves, which made us a bit nervous about all-day comfort. But in the end this was not an issue, and indeed, the additional thickness provided a comforting sense of support. 

Even better, this brace was almost half the cost of other comparable knee braces, making it's overall value hard to beat.

WHAT WE TELL FRIENDS

"This brace is 90% about perception and confidence. It's ideal if you want to try out a minimalist brace and the knee pain is fairly minor. Excellent quality and value. Fits with our belief that you should use the lightest brace that does the job." 

 

WRAPAROUND BRACE

Support for mild-to-moderate knee pain

WHO

Recommended for individuals looking for a more supportive brace at a great value. 

FOR WHAT

  • Minor to Moderate Meniscus Injuries

  • Minor to Moderate Osteoarthritis

  • Minor MCL or LCL sprains

  • Semi-active individuals who are fine with a firmer brace in exchange for extra support

 

WHY WE LIKE IT

The Mueller Wraparound Brace is an excellent brace that (you guessed it) wraps around the leg and is supported by strong velcro straps.These same straps allow for customizations of placement and snugness. Just be prepared to do a bit of trial and error the first few times you don the Mueller brace. 

Users report moving well in the brace, and an excellent perception of support. But keep in mind this is a heavier and stiffer brace than the previously mentioned compression knee sleeve braces. This is by design and a big reason the brace offers strong support, which users reported appreciating. But it also means it will be much more noticeable during use. Also, keep in mind this brace is made up primarily of thick neoprene, which can catch sweat a bit.

WHAT WE TELL FRIENDS

"This is a classic brace at a great value. The customizable straps help it hold steady, but unlike some of the higher-end braces it may tend to "migrate" down the leg if you are super active."

 

Also Great

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The DonJoy is almost three times the price of the Mueller but packed with features (including stash pocket for your keys.) It's a bit easier to take on and off and comes with "anti-migration tech," which promises to keep it in place while you move. Sturdier as well. Only reason it wasn't our first choice was the price premium was just a little too high compared to the Mueller.

NEXT-GEN BRACE

Cutting-edge, dynamic and static support

WHO

Recommended for individuals looking for the best blend of knee support and pain reduction for any/all activities - and are willing to pay a premium. 

FOR WHAT

  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

  • Chondromalacia Patella (Runner's knee)

  • Patellar Tendonitis

  • Meniscus pain

  • Mild-to-moderate meniscal tears

  • Athletes looking for premium sport during high-level activities

 

WHY WE LIKE IT

The DonJoy Reaction WEB knee brace features a cutting-edge webbing design that is quite different than previously reviewed braces. Per DonJoy, this unique approach paired with the flexible hinges work to "provide stability for the knee by absorbing shock and off-loading weight away from the painful area so you can continue the activities you love." 

While that seemed like a bit of an oversell to us - it was noted to provide an impressive level of support during daily and sporting activities. The breathability was excellent, once again due to the WEB design which allows for air flow. It was also noted to be quite stable. How much of that positive feedback can be attributed to the perception that as one tester reported, "Just feeling cool and confident in this brace," is difficult to measure. 

The WEB is also one of the few braces that has been targeted for clinical validation. A study in the Open Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation found a 20.2% improvement in quality of life. We would note the sample size was fairly small (17 participants) and an age range of 19-39 only. 

WHAT WE TELL FRIENDS

"Great brace if you are looking for a cutting edge option - especially if you are an athlete dealing with patellofemoral or meniscal pain. If you're not sure you need this level of support, trying out one of the lower cost braces first isn't unreasonable."

 

ACL BRACE

Advanced prevention of knee hyperextension

 

Knee Strap: McDavid 

WHO

The Bionic FullStop provides Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) protection during recovery from injury, as well as prevention of future injury. 

FOR WHAT

  • ACL injuries (mild-to-moderate)

  • Moderate-to-severe meniscus injuries 

  • Active individuals looking to mitigate pain and protect the knee during sporting activities

 

WHY WE LIKE IT

The Bionic FullStop impressed us. Its fit, comfort and joint protection was impressive.

 

Regarding the "FullStop" technology: These are referencing the dampening hinges that engage approximately 35 degrees before full knee extension and cushions the knee from the effects of full knee extension. In regular terms, this means the brace has a spring that kicks in to protect the knee from straightening beyond it's normal limits.) This is normally the job of the ACL. 

FYI, the old ACL braces (we've been around awhile), would prevent hyperextension, but did not have the cushioning effect. These new braces are much more dynamic, providing a more natural movement pattern - and increased confidence for the user.

 

Using this technology an athlete can transition slowly back to walking, jogging, running and eventually high-end athletic activities while minimizing stress to the ACL.

WHAT WE TELL FRIENDS

"An excellent brace that protects the ACL while promoting normal movement patterns. If you think the ACL is injured be sure to have a local PT or orthopedic evaluate the knee. It's not worth taking any chances with ACL's."

IT BAND BRACE

A simple strap to reduce IT Band pain

 

WHO

Recommended for active individuals suffering from outer knee pain associated with IT Band Syndrome. Particularly useful for cyclists and runners.

FOR WHAT

  • IT Band Syndrome

  • Designed for runners and cyclists

 

WHY WE LIKE IT

This brace is very simple. And it should be. Designed to disperse pressure on the outer knee from a tight IT band. 

The adjustable velcro strap is quick and easy to don and doff. Well built and known to last for many years, we highly recommend the ProTec.

One final note: Be careful how tight you cinch down the strap. Too tight can lead to increased IT Band tightness (not good.) The rule of thumb is to keep it as tight as needed to be effective - but no more. 

WHAT WE TELL FRIENDS

"IT Band Syndrome can be hard to resolve. Most active individuals can't bring themselves to completely stop cycling or running for extended periods. This brace is a nice tool to remain active - but it's not "fixing" anything. Healing will require time, rest, and doing your exercises religiously."

WHO

Recommended for active individuals dealing with mild-to-moderate patellar tendonitis/overuse injuries. Low cost.

FOR WHAT

  • Patellar Tendonitis

  • Runner's/Jumper's knee

  • Active individuals looking to mitigate pain during sporting activities

 

WHY WE LIKE IT

The McDavid Knee Strap is designed specifically for treating patellar tendonitis, runner's knee and jumper's knee (those are all a similar form of overuse injuries and inflammation related to the kneecap.) It is a simple, thin band the users reported as providing excellent support and significant pain relief. 

The adjustable velcro straps allow you to tighten it to the desired tension, which will vary user to user but in general should be strapped snugly. 

The McDavid and similar braces work by theoretically dispersing the tension placed on the thick tendon attaching the kneecap to the lower leg (tibia.) The strap is thin and durable and many active individuals report significant relief when using the McDavid Knee Strap. Easy to take on and off.

WHAT WE TELL FRIENDS

"This brace is reliable and useful if you can't take a long break from whatever activity is causing the issue in the first place. It will reduce your pain, but keep in mind this is not "fixing" anything. This brace paired with time, rest, and a consistent therapeutic exercise program is your best bet for success."

PATELLAR BRACE

A simple strap to reduce patellar tendon pain