Considering trying a knee brace for running? Perhaps you’re thinking that it’ll Help maintain your performance keeping you a bit more safe from re-injuring old knee issues, or other problems like runner’s knee.
Or maybe you’re considering it to help you stay active while treating a current running injury that you have. Before you make a decision, we would urge anyone considering this to first consult a physician before self-diagnosing themselves. If there is pain, it’s better to know exactly what is going on for sure, rather than treat without knowing whether or not you’re treating the right kind of injury or taking the correct precautions.
These are all worthy thoughts. Of course you want to protect your knees from the strains of running – after all, research shows that the knee is involved in almost 50% of all running injuries and as many as 70% of runners may experience some sort of running injury sooner or later.
But there’s a lot of misinformation out there about knee braces. Everyone’s trying to sell you their merchandise. They’re eager to tell you how much you’ll gain from their product.
Do you really need a knee brace for running? How do you know what kind to get? And, do knee braces even do anything?
Let’s dive in a little deeper to try and answer these, and other questions you probably have.
Types of Knee Braces
Knee braces come in many shapes and sizes and they’re made from materials just as varied. They can be made from any number of combinations using foam, elastic material, plastic, or metal. Their functions – depending on how they’re made – also vary. You need to be armed with enough information to make an informed decision – so we’ll quickly go over the basics of the different types of knee braces.
- Rehabilitative knee braces are designed specifically for people who are recovering post-injury. What they do is control the movement of the knee so as to protect the injured ligaments from further damage. They’re also designed to allow for swelling. Typically, they’re worn for about two to eight weeks.
- Unloader knee braces work to shift weight away from the damaged area of the knees and onto the thigh bone. They force the knee to bend a little, so as to “unload” the inner knee of any stress.
- Prophylactic knee braces serve to protect the knees of high-impact sports athletes from common injuries like an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tear. They also purport to protect the Medial Collateral Ligament as well as the Posterior Cruciate Ligament.
- Functional knee braces purport to aid in recovery after some kind of injury. In other words, you use them post-injury.
What’s the Best Kind of Knee Brace for Runners?
Now you know that there are four basic categories of knee braces. There are also a lot of subcategories within each of those categories – not to mention custom knee braces.
Runners, like other high-impact sports athletes, generally opt for prophylactic knee braces, which are made with straps, hinges, and bars to totally protect the area around the knee. They’re usually recommended for those runners who are uninjured specifically to keep them that way but can also be used to relieve pain from minor injuries during activity.
Note: Knee sleeves are not knee braces. While they, too, purport to offer knee support to runners and other athletes, they are a different product. We’ll discuss those in a separate article.
Here Are A Few Of Our Favorite Knee Braces?
The Ultra Knee Support, from Shock Doctor, is designed for more serious support. This brace is designed with Bilateral hinges to allow necessary yet controlled motion, as well as stops to prevent hyperextension. The stays in this brace remain secured in the Hypalon Sleeves, which also have a lot of features put into their design as well. The Sleeves are super easy to adjust and secure and will stay in place to provide the proper support. There was also plenty of thought put into comfort and breathability with Shock Doctor’s N-tex ventilated neoprene and cushioned patella support. The curved shape of the brace means that you aren’t getting unnecessary resistance in the wrong place while you run. If you definitely need a brace, then this would be our first pick.
Available with a fitted compression sleeve for added support and security, McDavid’s Elite Bio-Logix brace is as solid as it gets, while allowing the wearer the necessary movement and proper function to safely run, jog, or perform at other sports without causing more injury. The great thing about this particular brace is the weight. The exoskeleton looking design actually has some thought put into its design. The whole thing is very lightweight, even the version that includes the fitted compression sleeve. You’ll spend a little more on this brace, but we think it’s worth it.
This one is our pick for runners with thick legs. Don’t be mistaken by the lower price, the BraceAbility Hinged Wrap Around Brace keeps the knee from moving in a harmful way, but allows correct movement for running. This wrap-around brace is not quite as heavy-duty as the one above, but you will get the needed support. The hinged stays can be easily removed if the wearer wants to use it as a sleeve with less movement restriction. This also has an open patella design, which might reduce overall support minimally, but won’t feel so irritating on the knee once you get going.
Before You Go Buy A Brace, Ask Yourself These Questions:
What specific injury or cause of pain am I trying to treat or provide support for?
If you aren’t sure exactly what is causing your pain, simply wearing a brace might not be doing everything that you need. It could be something minor, but the pain could be caused by a much more serious issue. If you aren’t able to answer this first question with 100% confidence, then your best bet would be to start at the beginning and consult a medical expert. That way you know precisely what you are working with.
Is there a recommended type of support that is most appropriate for my issue or injury?
For this second question, you’ll find yourself right back at the first one, if you are not positively certain about what’s going on with your knee do plenty of research, but consider a professional medical opinion.
Do I have an injury that requires more than simply support from a knee brace? Is my issue actually more serious?
Again, this goes back to properly identifying your problem. If it is a case of “runner’s knee”, then you can add that support, along with following steps to allow you knee to heal. But the only way to really know if you are potentially dealing with a more serious issue, one that could be worsened by continuous running at that point in time, is to get yourself an appointment to get it looked at. If you end up with a minor issue, do think about it being a waste of time and money. Look at it from a point of view that you had it checked and are now sure that it is not a serious problem that would require much more attention, possibly even surgery.
If Knee Braces Don’t Work, What Can I Do to Protect My Knee?
Just to be clear, we’re not discounting knee braces altogether. There are substantial benefits to knee braces in certain instances. People who are at high risk for MCL injuries should consider them, for example. And certain football players can benefit greatly from them (offensive and defensive linemen specifically). Ultimately, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations. As a professional who knows you and your history, your doctor will be better able to guide you.
That said, we don’t recommend wasting money on a knee brace for running, especially if you’re healthy and uninjured. The minimal benefits you’ll gain aren’t worth the cost. Instead, as an alternative, we recommend cross-training, focusing especially on the core and on your hips. Strengthening those will help naturally take some stress off your knees.
Remember to also work on your running form and stretch properly before exerting yourself. These two things by themselves minimize a great deal of risk.
Here Are Some Questions Other Runners Have Asked:
Q: Do Knee Braces Really Offer Runners Knee Support?
Back in the 1970s, Nicolas and Castiglia (of the Lenox Hill Hospital) developed a knee brace for the football player from Joe Namath. Soon after, they became popular accessories for NFL players and other athletes, who scrambled for their own knee braces, believing that they’d provide them with immense performance benefits.
But that popularity has since waned in light of increasing evidence calling into question their actual effectiveness.
The thing is that even the evidence is contradicted by other evidence that argues that prophylactic knee braces do in fact aid in reducing certain injuries having to do with the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). There are also many subjective reports emphasizing the benefits of prophylactic knee braces – at the same time, there are plenty of subjective reports claiming the opposite.
The truth is that overwhelming evidence points to the fact that prophylactic knee braces are just not worth the money.
Because while they do actually offer substantial protection to the MCL against valgus stresses, they also limit performance. If you opt for a knee brace for running, you’ll likely end up sacrificing speed and performance. You’re also susceptible to overconfidence that could lead to the very injury you thought you were immune from.
That’s food for thought.
Q: Can a Knee Brace Aid In Treatment For Runner’s Knee?
A review of research conducted by Nynke M Stewart et al. published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that knee braces do not in fact aid in treating patellofemoral pain syndrome, otherwise known as “runner’s knee.”
They found that even if used in conjunction with physical therapy, a knee brace offers no benefit at all. Moreover, the research they reviewed revealed that so-called “functional” knee braces (described above) weren’t any more effective than a plain old placebo knee brace.