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- Best knee brace for osteoarthritis: DonJoy Advantage Deluxe Elastic Knee
- Best knee brace for patellofemoral pain syndrome: McDavid Knee Support/Double Wrap
- Best knee brace for ACL sprain or tear: The DonJoy Deluxe Hinged Knee Brace
- Best knee brace for patellar tendonitis: Bauerfeind Knee Strap
- Best knee brace for meniscus injury: Pro-Tec Athletics Hinged Knee Brace
What part of the body is both crucial to mobility and incredibly sensitive to pain?
That’s right, the knees.
Usually, treatment for knee pain starts with a combination of physical therapy (PT) and knee brace support. Each type of knee brace is designed to support a particular knee issue.
For a list of some of the most common knee issues and the general type of knee brace used for each, we spoke with Dr. Greg Minnis, a physical therapist at Excel Physical Therapy in New Jersey.
To narrow our list, we considered the most common knee issues and injuries, supportive treatments, braces on the market, and user experience.
To start, Minnis defines the following knee brace types for reference:
- Sleeve-style braces slip over your knee like a sleeve.
- Strap-style braces stabilize the knee with low-profile straps that fit under clothing.
- Wraparound braces use two straps that wrap around the knee.
- Unloader braces are specially designed to take pressure off the knee joint.
- Open patellar braces have a hole for the patella (kneecap) to sit in.
The knees are one of the most common joints affected by osteoarthritis (OA), which is a wearing down of the protective cartilage at the end of your bones.
“Depending on the severity of arthritis, a variety of braces could be used,” Minnis says. “Mild OA may only require a soft brace or sleeve style brace, while people with moderate to severe OA may benefit from an unloader brace, which takes pressure off of the arthritic side of the knee joint.”
Best knee brace for osteoarthritis
- Price: $
- Brace type: Sleeve
- Pro: Added support.
- Con: Partial skin irritation from the brace materials, especially if you have sensitive skin.
This elastic knit compression knee sleeve has medial and lateral stabilizers. The cut-out opening adds support to the knee and kneecap. It’s designed to be more lightweight, which can also makes it low profile, breathable, and comfortable. Thus, it’s probably best for people with mild arthritis who just need a bit of extra support.
Sizes come in small, medium, large, and extra large.
It has received good ratings on Amazon (4.3 out of 5 stars), with customers reporting the extra support allowed them to continue their activities.
Especially common in athletes, patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap is damaged as a result of injury or overuse.
“Generally, this issue does not require a rigid or overly supportive brace,” Minnis says. “An open patellar brace, a wraparound brace, or a knee sleeve may help a person with this issue.”
Best knee brace for patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Price: $$
- Brace style: Wrap
- Pro: Can significantly help with pain.
- Con: Some people may find the Velcro to irritate the skin.
This double wrap is made to be lightweight and flexible. It may offer a good amount of support for people experiencing pain under the kneecap.
Designed for comfort, the thinner neoprene material is perforated to allow for more breathability and adjustability. The first set of Velcro wraparound wings regulates compression of the muscles, while the second is meant to isolate and stabilize the kneecap.
The brace comes in small, medium, or large. It has received 5-star reviews on the McDavid website and 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Customers report they like the versatility and the “hug” support of the straps.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the most important parts of the knee joint because of its stabilizing job. When it gets sprained or torn, usually from athletic activity, it can result in serious pain and knee instability.
“A person with an ACL injury or following an ACL reconstruction will typically be given a rigid, hinged brace by their doctor,” Minnis says. “These braces may or may not be locked to limit knee mobility.”
Best knee brace for ACL sprain or tear
- Price: $$$
- Brace style: Wrap, hinged
- Pro: Can improve function and may allow for a speedier return to activity or sport.
- Con: If a brace significantly restricts movement, muscle atrophy and stiffness may occur.
This knee brace combines bilateral hinges with a breathable compression fabric designed to minimize skin irritation and discomfort.
There’s a hole over the kneecap to support it and at the back of the knee to prevent friction burn. It comes in six sizes, ranging from small to 2X-large.
Rated 4 stars on Amazon, customers like the lightweight yet supportive feel. Some report an issue with finding the right size or comfortable fit.
Knee tendonitis, common for runners and other athletes, happens when the tendon connecting the shinbone to the kneecap becomes inflamed. Runner’s knee and patellofemoral pain syndrome can occur when your kneecap has veered off the patellar groove.
“This issue is often helped by a strap-style brace,” Minnis says. He explains that “the strap helps compress the patellar tendon and aims to alleviate stress on the tendon.”
Best knee brace for patellar tendonitis
- Price: $$
- Brace style: Strap
- Pro: Can help reduce swelling.
- Con: May restrict movement and cause skin irritation.
This strap can help reduce overload on the patellar tendon. It’s designed especially for people who participate in running and jumping sports.
The lightweight fabric is meant to provide ease of movement. Pads incorporated into the strap can stimulate the patellar tendon and provide targeted compression.
It has received 4 stars on Amazon. Most customers report excellent support, but some express frustration that the strap was difficult to put on.
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone (tibia) and thighbone (femur). A torn meniscus is a common injury.
“Someone with a meniscus injury is looking to reduce excessive movement in the knee joint while still allowing for maximal function,” Minnis says. “Depending on the severity of the injury, any of the braces previously mentioned could be helpful.”
Best knee brace for meniscus injury
- Price: $$
- Brace style: Wrap, hinged
- Pro: An unloader brace may prevent an injury from worsening.
- Con: Restricted movement could lead to stiffness.
Consider this an alternative to an unloader brace. An unloader brace from a reputable company can run $350 or more, and can sometimes restrict movement beyond what’s comfortable, so it might be best to try a slightly less technical brace first.
A typical hinged brace, like this one from Pro-Tec, provides dual-axis hinges for enhanced stability while still allowing for full range of motion.
It comes in two sizes, medium and large. Customers on Amazon report less pain and ease of use. Some customers felt it was too heavy duty and resulted in an uncomfortable wear.
When choosing a knee brace, it’s important to find one that provides adequate support without being too bulky.
“Someone with mild knee pain doesn’t need a large, hinged knee brace that is going to drastically limit movement. They would benefit more from a compression sleeve or soft brace that would give some support but not restrict mobility too much,” Minnis says.
Oftentimes, this fine balance requires a bit of trial and error, but the above guide is a good place to start.
Minnis, who has advanced training in manual therapy treatment of the extremities, running gait analysis, and orthopedic rehabilitation, says knee braces and supports are just one tool for knee issues.
Other treatment options can include:
The following are some answers to common questions about how to use a knee brace.
When should I wear a knee brace?
“If you’re sitting down for long periods or only walking short distances at home, you should take off the knee brace as it is probably not necessary to have it on,” Minnis says.
“Those with a degenerative condition, like osteoarthritis of the knee, may find it helpful to wear a knee brace when you are more active, playing a sport, or on your feet for long periods,” he says.
Wear your knee brace when you’re going to be on your feet for long periods or performing simple tasks that may irritate or destabilize your knee, like when bending or twisting. Use your knee brace for any activity where you need support with your stability.
Can I wear a knee brace at night?
“Typically, you should not wear a knee brace at night,” Minnis says. “However, postsurgical patients may be instructed by their surgeon to wear a brace a night to limit unwanted movement.”
How long should I wear a knee brace?
“If the brace is helpful and allows you to continue doing what you love, then you should continue to wear the brace indefinitely,” says Minnis, adding that braces can be used concurrently with physical therapy.
What else can I do besides wearing a knee brace?
Physical therapy works on improving strength, range of motion, and gait quality while reducing soft tissue tension, says Minnis.
“PT treatment, along with bracing, may be very helpful for reducing pain and improving overall function,” he says.
Will a knee brace make my knee weak?
Minnis says, “Unless you are using a brace that limits your motion drastically or provides rigid support, the muscles around your knee are not going to weaken. In fact, if wearing a knee brace allows you to be more active/return to exercise or walking, then your strength is probably going to improve.”
Keep in mind that everyone is different. In some cases, wearing a knee brace may cause you to not use the muscles that support your knee as much as you should. This in turn may make you rely on your knee brace for stability instead of muscles like your quadriceps.
Your best bet is to talk with your physical therapist about strengthening your legs and use of a knee brace.
Knee braces can provide a low-risk option for reducing knee pain and improving function.
Luckily, the common knee brace offers an accessible, affordable, and effective intervention for many knee problems
Johanna Sorrentino is a writer, editor, and wayfarer. Her appetite for empowering information and great storytelling is matched only by her appetite for cheese and chocolate. Learn more about her at johannasorrentino.com.