Knee injuries are a common hazard in almost every sport. Like other major joints, knees combine several bones, muscles and ligaments in a confined space. However, knees endure more strain than many other joints because they support the body's entire weight. They're also required to support frequent changes of direction, sudden impacts and many other powerful, transient stresses. Knee braces can be used both to prevent knee injuries and to support injured knees as they heal.
There are several types of knee braces, designed to serve different roles. The most substantial models have rigid metal frames to restrict the knee from twisting or being bent sideways. More commonly, braces are made from an elastic material that bends and flexes with the leg, providing support without restricting the user's range of motion. Basic models are made of dense bandage-like elasticized fabric, while better quality braces are made from stronger substances such as neoprene. Manufacturers of knee braces use a variety of features to differentiate their own products, but in general most knee braces can be described as open patella or closed patella.
Open Patella Braces
Open patella braces, as the name suggests, leave the patella or kneecap uncovered. Some models are completely open in front, while others have a small reinforced opening just large enough for the patella. Advocates of open patella braces consider them more comfortable for extended wear than closed patella braces, which take the form of a continuous tube of supportive material.
Pros and Cons
Closed patella knee braces can sometimes cause or aggravate knee injuries by applying pressure to the patella during a workout and causing it to move off-center, or rub against the underlying joint. Many open patella braces are designed specifically to support the patella as a secondary benefit, holding it in proper alignment relative to the rest of the knee joint. Open patella braces provide slightly less support than closed patella braces, so powerlifters and bodybuilders often favor the closed design. Athletes in more active sports often favor open patella braces for their lightness and flexibility.
Choosing a knee brace involves more than a simple open versus closed decision. Both styles often provide additional protection for the knee, to prevent further injury. In the case of a closed brace, this might be a rigid plastic surface to protect the knee from impact. Open braces sometimes have a raised ring surrounding the patella, so the athlete can kneel while still protecting the patella. Various open and closed models include springs to support the knee's function, or straps to provide extra support to specific muscle groups. Consult your doctor, trainer or physiotherapist to discuss which brace is best for you.