There is a great variety of knee supports that are offered on the market at the moment and quite often we are in doubt which one will be the best solution for us. The answer to this question depends on the specific condition since a supportive device is beneficial if worn in accordance to the particular diagnosis.
Knee braces, straps and tapes offer a different level of pain relief and support to a sore and aching knee but they do not cure the injury. Make sure to take all the necessary steps that will help you cure your knee.
It is useful to know which condition is best affected by which type of support. Knowing how they function may be of great help to avoid worsening your knee condition by using inappropriate knee support. Keep in mind that in order to select the best option for your aching knee, it is better to consult your doctor, who will recommend what type of brace or other support you need. They can give you the best advice on how long to wear them, whether you can buy ready-made ones or you need a custom-made brace that will assist the healing process of your injury.
Here is a list of the types of knee support available on the market along with the most common conditions they are used to treat.
Types of knee braces and level of support they offer when to use them
Knee braces are the product that offers the greatest variety of support and can be used in various condition – from simple prevention to post-operative healing. Hence, knee braces come in different shape according to their function, level of protection, mode of production or purpose.
Most generally we can divide them into basic and advanced knee braces.
- As the name suggests, basic knee braces offer basic support and pain relief and can be used in several cases, especially when there is no severe condition. They can be found quite cheap on the market and usually look like a simple sleeve or wrap that easily fits the knee.
- Advanced knee braces have their name due to two main reasons. First of all, they are a bit more complicated contraptions that often feature wraps or hinges that help them to be attached to the knee. In addition to that, they are usually prescribed by a doctor after a more severe injury or after surgery.
Type of knee braces depending on their purpose
Knee braces can be worn for two main purposes – to relieve the pain and to offer more structural support. Based on their purpose, we differentiate four types of knee braces:
- Unloader braces are some of the most common braces to relieve pain offered on the market. They are preferred by people who suffer from arthritis as they reduce or alleviate the pain in the inner knee. Their aim is to shift the load from the area that hurts. Unloader braces can be made of foam, molded plastic, and steel struts and they are custom-made for each person according to their condition. Their purpose is to limit side movement by exercising pressure on the thigh bone. As a result, the knee bends in such a way that causes no pain.
- Prophylactic braces are usually worn by athletes, especially those practicing contact sports – football, basketball, hockey. Their aim is to support and protect the knee from injuries during training. Prophylactic braces should be light and comfortable to wear in order not to limit the movement of the athlete.
- Functional braces offer additional stability to a knee that has been injured. This type of braces is often preferred by athletes who have suffered a major injury, which is already healed.
- Rehabilitative braces are the ones used after a surgery or major injury. They help the knee heal by limiting the movement side to side and up and down. These braces can be worn for several weeks depending on the time the knee needs to heal.
It is of paramount importance to choose the right brace in accordance with your condition. It will have a positive effect only if used for the purpose it was created for.
Type of knee braces depending on the level of protection
It is quite important to make a difference between the level of protection of various knee braces offer. Some are designed to just mildly support the knee, while others are made to significantly limit the movement in order to protect the knee properly.
Generally, there are 4 levels of protection starting from Level 1 to Level 3+.
Level 1 knee braces offer the least support but at the same time, they are the most flexible ones. They relieve pain and allow the person to remain active while wearing them.
Level 3 and Level 3+ knee braces are usually custom made and offer the greatest support in the event of serious injuries and major instabilities.
Difference between ready-made and custom-made knee braces
We can also differentiate between ready-made and custom-made knee braces. The ready-made braces usually fall into the category of basic knee support. They offer Level 1 support and are mainly functional or prophylactic braces. Their price is generally lower and you can find them in almost any pharmacy, medical supply shop or order them online. The ready-made braces come in different sizes, so you need to select the one that fits you best. A loose brace may do more harm on your knee than wearing no brace at all. The benefit of the ready-made braces is that you can go and buy one and start wearing it immediately. Still, remember to consult your doctor if the brace you have chosen is really the right one for your condition.
Custom-made braces are advanced knee braces and are usually more expensive. They are much more complicated and it usually takes time before you order them and take them home. In most of the cases, once your custom-made brace is ready, you need to try it first to see if it really fits and then start wearing it. These braces are prescribed for more severe injuries or for post-operation healing and offer a higher level of support. They may also be covered by your health insurance, so make sure to check that with your healthcare provider.
Knee Sleeves and their application
Knee sleeves are often reviewed as a type of knee braces. We can differentiate between two varieties – ordinary knee sleeves and patella braces or sleeves, that have a hole on them.
There are two main functions of the knee sleeve – to provide compression and to provide proprioceptive information to the brain. Knee sleeves are usually made of compressive materials that can manage light swelling around the knee. They also stimulate the blood flow into the quadriceps – the muscles that support the knee. Their other main function is also very important. Proprioceptive feedback gives the brain information about how the knee functions and sleeves help to deliver it and to signify that this area needs a little more help at present. The compressive knee sleeves are quite suitable for conditions that cause mild swelling around the knee. The swelling can be a result of bruises or mild form of arthritis. People suffering from the so-called runner’s knee or minor sprains can also use knee sleeves. Knee sleeves, along with some other basic type of knee braces, are also recommended during running for both athletes and unprofessional runners.
The patella brace or a knee sleeve with a hole plays a special function in supporting the kneecap. Its special design encompasses the cap and keeps it on track. It offers support and helps avoid irritation around the kneecap. The patella brace is used in some more complicated conditions. It is prescribed in case the person is suffering from chondromalacia, or patellar hypermobility (loose kneecaps). Knee sleeves with a hole can be also prescribed post0surgically in order to help the knee return to activity.
It is worth mentioning that knee sleeves are one of the most popular types of knee support. They are easily available and quite affordable.
Knee straps and common conditions
Knee straps are quite easy to use since they simply wrap around the bottom of the knee. Their aim is to apply pressure to the tendon and spread it across a larger area. Thus, the knee strap takes stress off the sore area of the patellar tendon.
Knee straps can also be secured above the knee in order to reduce stress to the IT bands. They prevent tightening and friction around the knee.
Regardless of its position – beneath or above the knee, the strap serves one more major function similar to that of the knee sleeve. It provides proprioceptive feedback to the brain to provide extra support to the muscles that support the knee.
There are several conditions when knee straps are used. The most popular ones include patellar tendonitis, runner’s knee, chondromalacia, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and IT Band friction syndrome.
Knee straps can be found in different shops and online and come at a relatively low price.
Tape and how to use it
Kinesiotape, referred to as K tape, has gained popularity in recent years, especially among runners and athletes. It is usually brightly colored and differs from traditional athletic tape due to its elasticity and a broad range of application. K tape was developed in Japan and initially came in two different colors – red and blue. Red K tape was used for areas that need heating effect, while blue tape has a cooling effect and is applied to injuries that will benefit from it. At present, K tape comes in many different colors that have no particular meaning or difference in the application, so you can go ahead and choose the one you love.
The best advantages of K tape is that it mimics the elasticity of human skin and moves naturally without causing any restrictions. It also remains adhesive for several days despite sweating and showering. It can lift the skin, improve the work of muscles, joints, fascia and lymphatic system. K tape reduces swelling, provides supports and also enhances proprioception.
Since K tape application depends on the injury and on the purpose, you need to use it for, it is recommended to use the advice of a health professional as to how to apply it.
K tape is used to treat different orthopedic conditions. Its most popular application is among runners who have runner’s knee or IT band friction syndrome.
Types of injuries and recommended knee support
One of the ways to choose which type of knee support you need is by determining the type of injury you want to treat. This can be best done with the help of a health specialist who can diagnose you correctly and help you in finding proper pain relieve and support.
Basically, there are four types of injuries and the right support for them is shown below:
- Acute injuries
An injury is considered to be acute in the very first days after it occurs. Acute injuries usually benefit from the so-called RICE treatment – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Depending on the type of injury, different knee support can be helpful. A ligament tear can be supported by a functional brace prior to the surgery, while a compression sleeve shall be prescribed afterward to keep swelling under control and help the knee heal
- Subacute injuries
Subacute injuries are those that have started healing and usually last for the first six weeks of the initial healing process. The period can be longer depending on how severe the injury was. Compression is one of the most useful treatments in this case. Avoid unloader and functional braces as they will be of no help.
- Chronic injuries
For chronic pain like arthritis basic knee sleeves, unloader braces and compression sleeves are one of the most suitable knee support. Unloader braces can also be used for more severe cases.
- Injury prevention
There is still research in the area of injury prevention and how knee braces can help. Still, many athletes prefer to wear some kind of knee protection and support. Runners or athletes in contact sports often wear prophylactic braces to prevent injury.
It is important to know how knee braces can help you and to determine your condition prior to purchasing one. This is best done with the help of a health specialist.
You can also check the knee braces we offer and see how they can help you with your condition.