What to Look for in a Knee Brace
There are three main types of knee braces: a compression, sleeve-like brace, a brace that features metal hinges, and, as mentioned previously, a brace with an open hole cut out for your knee. A compression sleeve brace is good for reducing inflammation and can be good for sleeping since it’ll prevent your knee from moving (and straining further) while you sleep. However, for arthritis, you typically want to look for a knee brace that allows for a full range of motion and doesn’t limit mobility or cause stiffness.
Some of the most common materials you’ll see in arthritis knee braces are neoprene, polyester, and nylon. If your knee brace has hinges, it may feature some metal components on the sides. Whichever fabric or material you choose entirely depends on what’s most comfortable for you. Traditional neoprene is not breathable, but it is thermal and helps provide extra insulation. Depending on how it feels on your skin or the weather outside, you may want to adjust the type of material you use. Some braces are made out of vented neoprene, which allows for more airflow and even moisture-wicking capabilities. Lightweight neoprene may also be a more breathable option. Consider your needs, the climate, and any allergies to materials before making your decision.
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Most knee braces you can buy online come in different sizes or are sized to different genders. Compression “sleeve” knee braces, may have to be chosen to more exact sizing, whereas wrap-around type braces are able to be personally adjusted to your knee size.
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Knee braces with hinges are typically worn post-surgery. “Knee braces are typically used for protective or stabilizing functions,” says Vikram Sathyendra, MD, a New Jersey-based orthopedic surgeon. He also specializes in orthopedics. “I typically use braces after a sprain of one of the collateral ligaments in the knee (the ligaments on the side of the knee) or post-surgery to protect a ligament repair. I also use patellofemoral braces to improve tracking of the patella (kneecap) and reduce anterior knee pain in patellofemoral syndrome.”
In rare cases, your doctor may suggest a custom knee brace that can suit your exact needs.
According to Dr. Sathyendra, “evidence is pretty mixed and inconclusive in terms of using a brace for arthritis in the knee.” If you find a knee brace does help alleviate your arthritis pain, make sure you let your doctor know you’ve decided to wear one, and closely monitor the usage together.
“Typically, knee arthritis affects the inside part of the knee,” says Dr. Sathyendra. “Logically, offloading this part of the joint and putting more pressure on the outside part of the knee should alleviate some of the pain and stress. However, there is no study which shows that offloading braces, designed to re-align the leg back into place and lessen the pressure on knee joints, actually work.”
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Knee braces can actually make your knee stiffer, so if you notice the opposite effect that the brace is supposed to have—i.e. limited mobility—make sure to stop wearing it and consult with your doctor immediately. “By offloading one part of the knee joint, we are now putting more of a load onto another part of the knee joint. If there is already arthritis in the outside part of the knee, we can aggravate that part of the knee,” says Dr. Sathyendra.
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Additional reporting for this story by Brittany Leitner
As a health writer with over eight years of experience, Brittany Leitner understands how important access to information is when it comes to making educated health decisions. She has interviewed dozens of medical experts, tested out hundreds of products, and aims to provide quality recommendations that won’t break the bank.
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