At some point, most runners will experience some form of knee pain or injury. Braces may aid in pain reduction and provide structural support following injury. It is important to determine which brace is appropriate based on the injury sustained.
Patellar Stabilizing Brace
Patellar tracking injuries or pain arises when the patella, also known as the kneecap, does not properly track in the groove of the femur, or thigh bone, leading to pain and friction. A patellar stabilizing brace is designed to help provide optimal patellar tracking. Typically these braces will have a strap, or block, to hold the patella in place as the knee moves through its range of motion.
Neoprene is a stretchy material which also has the ability to insulate a joint. Neoprene braces are varied and serve multiple purposes. Some neoprene braces are simply sleeves which provide compression and retain heat. Some neoprene braces incorporate hinges or patellar stabilizers. Determining which neoprene brace is best is decided by the specific injury being treated.
Arthritic Knee Brace/Unloader
When arthritis develops in a joint, the joint space is diminished or compromised due to degeneration. This diminished space leads to bone-on-bone contact, which causes pain. Unloader knee braces have hinges which are specially designed to help reduce this bone-on-bone friction, thus reducing pain.
When a runner develops pain in the patellar tendon, the region just below the kneecap, sometimes a simple knee band will help relieve the pain. Bands are straps which go around the circumference of the knee, and relieve strain and stress on the tendon, potentially decreasing pain. These bands are commonly used to treat tendinitis, runner's knee and Osgood Schlatter's disease.
Hinged knee braces are typically bigger and provide more support than a neoprene brace. These braces provide more stability and are more rigid. Hinged braces may be customized to fit an individual and are often worn after knee surgery. Some hinged braces are designed to limit range of motion at different degrees of movement, and some are adjustable, while others are standard.
While knee braces help provide support and may help decrease pain, braces will not take the place of proper strengthening or rehabilitation for injuries. Rather, braces should be viewed as an aid, not the only solution to a problem. A qualified healthcare professional will recommend and potentially prescribe an appropriate knee brace based on a specific injury.