Types of Knee Braces: Knee Braces vs. Knee Sleeves

There are several types of knee braces that can offer support and stability while strengthening the muscles and joints. Whether you need a knee brace post surgery or a knee sleeve for pain relief, we are certain you will find one that helps you. Let’s take a look at the different types of knee braces.

Knee Braces vs. Knee Sleeves

  • Knee sleeves slip right over your knee and provide compression, which helps reduce swelling and minimize pain. Knee sleeves come in a variety of different sizes and work well for those with mild knee pain or arthritis and they offer light support. Sleeves are more discreet than braces and provide a comfortable fit under clothing.
  • Knee braces are mostly designed and used to protect a previous knee injury from further risks and damage. The protection that knee braces offer is most important for knees put under great daily pressure when doing things like running, jumping, weightlifting and more. Knee braces provide slow, limited movement that allows the patient to gradually regain their range of motion in the knee.

Types of Knee Braces

The right knee brace for you depends on the level of support you need (recommended by your doctor). The type of knee brace you need depends on whether or not you are recovering from a recent surgery, the type of injury (and risk) you have, and how much movement your knee should be getting during the healing process.

There are 5 different types of knee braces:

  1. Knee Sleeves: While not technically knee “braces”, knee sleeves offer support while strengthening the muscles and joints. You can treat joint pain with knee sleeves available in a variety of sizes and designs.
  2. Prophylactic Knee Braces: These braces are made with bars, hinges, and straps that are designed to protect the knee from further risks and damage (like an injury to the Medial Collateral Ligament, or MCL). They are commonly recommended for patients who play contact sports like football and basketball.
  3. Functional Knee Braces: There are different styles of functional braces and they are used to provide support and improve knee function while a knee injury is healing.
  4. Postoperative or Rehabilitation Braces: These braces are designed to limit knee movements while it is healing after a serious injury or surgery. They are typically only used for 2-8 weeks while using crutches.
  5. Unloader Knee Braces: Unloader knee bracers place pressure on the thigh in order to unload stress from the affected knee joint. They are mostly recommended for those who have medial (inner part of the knee) compartment knee osteoarthritis.

Styles of Knee Braces

In addition to knee sleeves, let’s take a look at the the different styles of knee braces to choose from. This may also be recommended by your doctor. 

  • Wraparound or dual-wrap braces are great knee braces for athletes experiencing moderate knee pain, as they provide more support than sleeves. They are easy to put on and take off and they allow you to freely move when training, unlike the heavier and bulkier hinged braces.
  • Hinged knee braces are mostly used for patients who are post-surgery and athletes who need a higher level of protection and support. Hinged braces may be heavier and bulkier, but for a good reason, as they keep your knee in the proper alignment when it bends, which helps avoid further injury.
  • Knee straps are perfect for those who suffer from knee pain due to runner’s knee or jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis), Osgood-Schlatter disease, or patella tracking. Knee straps help prevent patella injuries and minimize knee pain by putting compression on your patellar tendon.
  • Closed and open patella braces are braces with either a hole in the center of the brace (open patella) and or without a hole (closed patella). Open patella braces offer support and relieve knee pressure, while closed patella braces offer compression at the kneecap with the same pressure as the rest of the brace to provide additional support.

Make sure to check the size charts and measure your knee in the appropriate spots in order to get a knee brace that fits you. Most styles of knee braces have compression, which offers a feeling of tightness, but they should feel comfortable and supportive. If your brace is uncomfortably tight, loosen the straps or choose a larger size.

The right knee brace for you will depend on the level of support you need and what your doctor recommends. This decision is based on whether or not you are recovering from a recent knee surgery, the type of injury or pain you have, and how much movement your knee should be getting.

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