Which Knee Brace Should I Buy?

The knee brace market is a confusing one. With so many types, brands and materials, this article will help organize and categorize the options available so you can make a better decision when selecting a knee brace.

There are 7 main categories of knee braces:
*Non-custom options are available for each category, custom options are only available for some. It is noted under each category where a custom option is available.

1) Posts surgical or post injury knee braces

  • common use: after knee surgery or immediately after a knee injury (ligament, kneecap, quadriceps, meniscus etc.)
  • it is used to keep the leg straight and is recommended to be worn between 2-8 weeks depending on the injury, surgery and doctor recommendation
  • there are fancier variations of this brace that allows a patient to lock and unlock the knee range of motion which some surgeons may recommend, called a ROM splint
  • most knee injuries would benefit from transitioning out of a post surgical knee brace into a framed knee brace when pain has improved and they are safely able to bear weight

2) Compression or basic sleeve knee braces

  • common use: reduce swelling, provide general warmth, create a sense of comfort for your knee
  • compression braces do not provide any ligament support or joint stability for your knee
  • can sometimes be used in combination with a more supportive framed knee brace if thin enough
  • may come with an opening around the kneecap or behind the knee, no holes will provide better compression

3) Less supportive frame knee braces

  • common use: provide minimum knee stability, mild MCL injuries, mild LCL injuries, less severe meniscus or osteoarthritis 
  • shorter overall length, generally have 2 velcro straps, 1 upper and 1 lower
  • less durable and more bendable side frame, commonly made of thin metal or plastic, thus providing less knee support
  • this brace does not provide front and back support necessary for ACL and PCL injuries

4) More supportive frame braces – custom option available

  • common use: provide maximum knee stability, moderate – severe MCL, LCL, meniscus, ACL, PCL injuries and osteoarthritis 
  • custom frame braces will provide the most comfort, support, durability and longevity
  • longer overall length, generally have 4 velcro straps, 2 upper and 2 lower
  • more durable and less bendable side frame, commonly thicker metal, thus providing more knee support
  • this brace provides front and back support necessary for ACL and PCL injuries

5) Unloader knee braces – custom option available

  • common use: knee conditions that require unicompartment (one sided) medial or lateral load reduction, ie. osteoarthritis, degenerative meniscus injuries, tibial plateau fractures, avascular necrosis
  • unloading in the knee can be incorporated into a frame style brace with a hinge modification, other braces use a single upright hinge to create a 3 point leverage for a stronger unload, both have their pros and cons
  • Ossur is a global leader in unloader knee braces, their Ossur Unloader One knee brace has been clinically shown to decrease pain, improve function and decrease use of pain medications in knee osteoarthritis

6) Patella stabilizing knee braces – custom option available

  • common use: general patella support, PFPS (patellofemoral pain syndrome), dislocated or subluxed patella
  • can vary from simple compression with added padding for the the knee cap, to more complex braces with extra support needed for dislocations
  • the padding in the brace around the patella and the strength of the straps to pull and support the patella can vary, the more padding and stronger the straps the greater support the brace will provide
  • for patella dislocations the best brace will have a combination of metal hinges, and more supportive straps that pull the patella medially, Donjoy Tru Pull Advance is an excellent non custom option
  • custom options are available and recommended for clients that require both patella support as well and knee ligament or joint support

7) Patella tendon knee braces or straps

  • common use: patella tendinitis
  • this category is not exactly a brace, but more of a strap design
  • by tightening the strap over the patella tendon, it helps spread pressure across a larger area and reduce stress on the injured patellar tendon

Oftentimes knee braces can be a combination of the categories listed above. For example you can have a framed brace that also provides compression or a patella stabilizing brace that also has a metal frame.

Also, there are knee brace brands that can manufacture a custom product for a category not mentioned above. For example, Bauerfeind makes a custom compression brace, however, it is rare and will not provide any significant benefit. The custom knee bracing options mentioned in the categories above are mentioned because of their added benefits and they are commonly purchased products.



Difference Between Non-Custom versus Custom Knee Braces

It is important to summarize the differences between custom and non-custom knee braces to further help in your planning as some categories above have custom options available.

Non-Custom Knee Braces

  • these are prefabricated often coming in 3-5 sizes ranging from XS – XL depending on the manufacture and brace
  • measurements are simple using basic circumference measures on 1-2 spots
  • clients fit into a range of sizes making the fit not as accurate, usually fitting too tight or too loose
  • non-custom knee braces tend to not last as long when compared to custom made braces, they loosen overtime as the material wears down and stretches with each use
  • warranties are much shorter, often 30 days – 1 year depending on the specific brand and brace
  • non-custom knee braces are recommended for individuals that:
    • don’t need much knee support or protection
    • have mild ligament injuries (ACL, MCL, LCL, PCL) or mild joint symptoms (osteoarthritis or meniscus)
    • won’t require the use of a brace for more than a few months
    • don’t plan to participate in sports, running, hiking or other strenuous activity

Custom Knee Braces

  • custom braces are manufactured specifically for an individual only after all the necessary measurements are taken
  • measurements are more complex often involving specialized devices, casting and photos
  • capture knee joint angle, knee width and circumference much more accurately, measured to the millimeter
  • these braces will last longer, are built more durable, fit more comfortably, which leads to a more supportive, protective device that is more likely to be worn
  • warranties for custom products are much longer, most often lifetime warranties are provided
  • custom knee braces are recommended for individuals that:
    • want the most possible support and protection 
    • have a longer history of knee pain and injuries, have a current ligament (ACL, MCL, LCL, PCL) or joint symptoms (osteoarthritis, meniscus) that are more than mild
    • will require the use of a brace for more than a few months
    • plan to participate in sports, running, hiking or other strenuous activity

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