Considering a knee brace?

Usually people arrive at a site discussing knee brace options because they don’t necessarily want to part with several hundred dollars for a doctor or physical therapist just yet.

My hope is that the information below can solve about 90% of cases. In my career, here’s what I’ve seen:

  • Some believe they need a knee brace simply because they have a sore knee and want to know the options
  • Others play sports and want to know what knee brace options exist therein.
  • (That’s the overwhelming majority of people searching for knee pain and knee brace options.)
  • A third bucket is massive knee pain that impacts walking. In that situation, you should see a doctor.

Now, in the interest of full transparency up front, our site does link to various knee brace options — but the goal of this specific article isn’t a sales document of any kind, but just information about what to do in different situations.

First, though: brief context.

My background and interest

I’ve actually had two meniscus tears and been hit by a motorcycle — on the same knee.

normal vs torn meniscus

Interior of the knee, normal vs torn meniscus

As a result, I took a large personal interest in knee pain and solutions. I’ve done hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of research on the topic, running the gamut from spicy foods to relieve inflammation to choosing knee support sleeves. This is a legitimate passion of mine.

Knee brace options: The 11 Factors to Consider

Before we get into specifics, let’s start with a high-level view.

For both soreness reasons and sports participation reasons, many knee pain sufferers do use compression elastic knee sleeves.

Knee sleeves are different than knee braces, but belong in the same family of treating knee pain/soreness. The terms are often used interchangeably, however, one way to think about it is that knee sleeves slip on over the leg, whereas knee braces often strap on, usually with velcro straps. Both knee sleeves and  knee braces are often designed to protect a previous injury from further damage; likewise, both can protect the knee from future injury or risk.

If you regularly run, jump, or do weightlifting, either a  knee sleeve or brace can be a good option for you.

Compression elastic knee sleeves typically increase blood flow and reduce pain during and after a workout. That’s one of the reasons for their popularity.

Final concept that’s important to remember about knee sleeves and knee braces, however: a knee brace is designed to protect the anterior knee and patella. Some knee sleeves with supporting side stabilizers provide  even more support for ligaments.

1. The popularity of velcro wraps in knee braces

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EzyFit Knee Brace Support Dual Stabilizers & Open Patella - Adjustable Breathable Neoprene for ACL...
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  • ANTI-SLIP BI-DIRECTIONAL STRAPS SYSTEM DESIGN: Alternating wrapping from all angles help to stabilize the patella to reduce knee joint pain ensuring it stays firmly in place while you move plus...
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The other high-level view you need is the popularity of velcro wraps, which is increasing recently.

Because they have adjustable straps (i.e. the velcro), the brace fits to the contour of your knee/leg. This usually (not always) means it will stay in place better than the sleeves described above.

The velcro also makes them inherently one-size-fits-all, which reduces any stress associated with ordering.

Open at the front velcro knee brace wraps allow the knee to breathe more; ones that close all the way around the knee allow for maximum heat retention towards healing.

Some different types of knee braces

Initially I just want to mention a few of the popular types, then we’ll go one-by-one on them. Those would be:

  • Magnetic knee braces
  • Tourmaline knee braces
  • Copper knee braces
  • Bamboo knee braces

We’ll run through these types and their pros/cons, then look at some other types of braces — including straps, wraps, and sleeves.

2. Magnetic knee braces: The big picture

There is admittedly some debate on the effectiveness of magnets in general healing, and that applies to the magnetic knee brace as well.

A magnetic knee brace is usually used in moderate to severe cases including arthritis, sprains, post-surgical recovery, and more.

A magnetic knee brace is (logically) going to have a series of magnets — often gauss neodymium or gauss ceramic — located behind the knee cap, as well as around the sides.

The magnets are thought to speed up healing, adjust compression, and provide good stable support for the knee.

A magnetic knee brace can be a little bit pricier, so if cost is your main objective, you may want to consider other options.

3. What is up with Tourmaline knee braces?

A tourmaline knee brace is typically tourmaline cloth with magnet stones. It’s often made of higher-quality elastic nylon. Here’s one example from Amazon.

The premise of Tourmaline knee braces is that infrared rays help stimulate tiny blood vessels in the knee, dilating the cells. As a result, fresh oxygenated blood can reach the affected area, which speeds up healing.

One common descriptor of Tourmaline braces on the Internet is “self-heating braces,” and that’s a good way to conceptualize what they do.

4. Copper knee braces

Former NFL QB Brett Favre actually endorses copper knee braces, and he notably had numerous knee issues in his career.

Copper knee braces are generally designed to help with mild pain during exercise– and they can be used as part of a longer-term recovery.

Oftentimes the biggest benefit of copper knee braces is that the associated fabric will be antibacterial, keeping odor down — and because of copper’s generally-malleable nature, these types of braces can be good for running.

The obvious demerit is that there’s no major scientific evidence about the healing powers of copper. It may simply be a good product choice, and not one paying any dividends back to you.

5. Bamboo knee braces

Bamboo knee braces are typically wraps which use fibers from bamboo charcoal. The perceived benefits are:

  • Compression
  • Self-warming
  • Reflection of body heat

Bamboo charcoal is bamboo that’s been carbonized inside an oven. It creates a kind of porous, but durable end product that sometimes is used to filter water. The porous nature means it naturally adjusts, which is why it eventually became a logical knee brace product.

One complaint on bamboo knee braces, as seen on this Amazon thread, is that they tend to slide down the knee, which can cause annoyance for the athlete.

6. Knee brace sleeves: Pros and cons

We discussed the difference between a knee brace and a knee sleeve a little bit above.

For the purposes of simplicity, you can think of a “knee brace sleeve” as essentially an elastic knee brace.

Typically there are three kinds:

  • Full closed sleeves
  • Open sleeves
  • Wrap around knee sleeves

Full closed sleeves are good for those concerned about price; they tend to be the lowest-priced on the market. They’re also relatively easy to put on. The entire knee joint is supported and heat retention is strong. The “con” here is that these tend to be better for low-level athletes who get minor discomfort; they don’t always support consistent athletes well.

Open sleeves are good when there’s pain at the front of the knee, which can happen often with runner’s knee. Because it has a hole/support buttress at the front, it reduces pressure there. It’s also relatively easy to apply; there are no straps.

We discussed Velcro options above. While it fits with your body well, some athletes don’t want to contend with the straps. That’s usually viewed as the biggest negative.

7. Strap knee braces: Pros and cons

A strap knee brace is just what you would think: a brace that involves some kind of strap. They wrap around the bottom of the knee and apply pressure to the tendon. They can take stress off the patella, or the tendon at the bottom of the knee.

The first negative here is often the same as Velcro: sometimes, athletes (especially runners) don’t want to deal with extra straps or complexity when getting out to run.

The other concern, mentioned in this Runner’s World community thread, is that oftentimes runners assume a knee brace or knee strap will provide the right support. In a running context, the support/stability should be coming from your muscles.

That’s not to say you should avoid a strap knee brace. No. It’s to say that it can be beneficial to do free weight work, squatting, etc. before assuming a strap knee brace is going to solve any specific running/working out issue.

8. Wrap knee braces: Pros and cons

Many probably conceptualize a wrap knee brace as something like an ACE bandage.

Knee wraps are a favorite of powerlifters because they allow them to squat more. As they go downwards in a squat, the wrap allows for elastic energy to be stored — which they can use as they push upward.

The downside: while they might help you move more weight, they don’t necessarily help you get any stronger. And because a tight knee wrap pushes the kneecap into the thighbone, they can increase the chances of arthritis in later life.

9. What do “open patella” and “closed patella” mean here?

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McDavid 402 Knee Supp Open/Pat (Black, Medium)
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You’ll sometimes see these terms when researching knee braces.

Open patella means the kneecap is left open/exposed. A closed patella knee brace covers the kneecap, usually with continuous fabric.

The biggest difference in selection tends to be the primary type of athletics/working out you do. Open patella knee braces are better for those who run or participate in more cardio-driven events, because they’re lighter and flexible. The negative is that they often provide a lower degree of support.

As mentioned above with knee wraps, oftentimes weightlifters prefer closed patella knee braces because of increased support. There is a drawback, however: the pressure applied can cause the patella to move off-center or rub against another joint. This can exacerbate problems later in life.

10. What about gels?

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Knee Support Brace Wrap with Ice Gel Pack for Hot and Cold Therapy: For ACL, Meniscus Tear, Golf /...
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Gel knee braces are a new entrant; they’ve only gained more popularity in the last decade or so.

The core benefits are patella support (via a thick oval gel), compression, and support on both sides of the knee for overall stability.

The major disadvantage to be aware of is that gel knee braces often make sweating worse, as heat and moisture stay close to the body as opposed to evaporating. If being sweaty or getting through a workout sweaty concerns you, gel might not be your best bet.

11. What about knee pads?

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Mcdavid 6446 Extended Compression Leg Sleeve with Hexpad Protective Pad (Black, Medium) - One pair
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  • Leg sleeves featuring 9mm HEX Technology is a favorite among pro and collegiate players
  • Extended length for better fit as well as added protection against cuts and scratches

Knee pads are probably the oldest name in the knee repair/protection game; welders have been using them for multiple generations, for example.

Knee pads provide basic support, but they’re not going to be your best bets for long-term athletic participation. As you can see above, much more has entered the market to consider between. Knee pads are better for work jobs than running and lifting.

Where do you begin?

First, you need to begin by understanding different treatment options for knee pain, which runs from self-care to orthopedics. Selecting a knee brace would fall within self-care.

Next would be a research stage (hopefully the above was helpful).

Before you start researching, determine whether this is a protection context (you want to protect your knee from future damage) or a pain relief context (you want to alleviate pain as you keep following your routine).

If it’s a protection context, there are a number of resources you can look into. This will even direct you to stellar magnetic knee brace sleeves via Amazon, for example.

If your goal is pain relief, consider some of these resources. You might even learn six different foods that will help you with knee pain.

As we discussed at the very beginning of this article, any serious knee issue or pain preventing walking/mobility should be addressed to a physician. The goal of this article and others we publish is to give you an understanding of different knee brace, knee pain relief, and knee pain prevention options under the “self-care” umbrella.

If you have additional questions about anything knee brace related or want to explain your specific context to us and see if we can recommend products, do not hesitate to reach out. We love helping with knee-related issues.