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Achieving Optimal Knee Support: Knee Instability and Braces

Written By Pro Physio on April 3, 2018

How to Achieve Optimal Knee SupportKnee Anatomy Stability

A common question that I often get from friends or patients who are currently experiencing knee pain is, “Should I currently be using a knee brace to alleviate these frustrating symptoms I experience while trying to remain active?” While this question seems like it could be answered quickly, it is more complex than one might think. The complexity of the question arises from the various kinds of knee braces available, and properly determining which style will best meet the demands you require from it. Most importantly though is knowing the type of knee injury you are currently suffering from and then finding the proper brace to protect and alleviate your symptoms. Here are different types of knee braces available and the two common knee injuries they can best provide support for.

Two Common Causes of Knee Pain That Often Benefit from A Knee Brace

Knee Instability

So what causes knee instability?Knee Quadriceps Quad Patellofemoral BraceTo try and answer this question we should look at the anatomy of the knee joint.Our knee is a hinge joint consisting of interaction between two bones the femur and tibia. The main motions that occur at the knee joint are flexion and extension, although the knee does undergo some small rotational movements. There are four main ligaments that protect and stabilize our knee joint. These ligaments consist of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments protect us from increased forward, backward, medial, and lateral forces that are placed on our knee joint and the subsequent translation of the bones between each other. If these forces become too great, we can suffer from a ligament strain or even a partial or complete tear. If a ligament is strained or torn, the knee will often become more unstable and this instability can begin to create knee pain.


Patellofemoral Dysfunction.

Another common cause of knee pain is patellofemoral dysfunction. This disorder is caused by improper tracking of the patella through the femoral groove leading to increased bone friction and subsequent pain. The patella is a sesamoid bone that is connected by two tendons the quadricep tendon and the patellar tendon. The quadriceps are made up of four muscles the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and vastus lateralis muscles which all connect into the patella forming the quadricep tendon. If one of these muscles becomes weakened, (quite commonly the vastus medialis due to its smaller size) the patella begins to track more laterally and gets pulled away from the groove, causing increased bone friction and subsequent pain. Proper muscle strengthening can often alleviate these symptoms however knee braces can be use in the interim to help alleviate symptoms.


Different Types of Knee Braces


Strap Knee Brace

Knee Brace Strap

If you have ever seen someone run by with a single strap directly above or below their knee cap you have witnessed the most simplistic brace available. Strap knee braces are commonly used for individuals who suffer from IT band syndrome or jumpers knee. What the strap is doing, is providing a compression force over either the distal end of the IT band (above the knee), or directly over the patella tendon (below the knee) and providing a consistent compression force. This compression force from the strap helps disperse high forces experienced during activity, thereby increasing knee stability and decreasing painful symptoms. Individuals who have been diagnosed with IT band syndrome or jumpers knee can often find great relief from a strap brace.


Wrap Around Knee Brace

Knee Brace Wrap

This type of brace is probably the most commonly used knee brace on the marked. These braces are made from stretchy materials most often neoprene and provide a tight snug compression around the whole knee joint. Some wrap around braces come with straps above and below the knee joint which allow for adjustments while participating in activities. These adjustable straps are beneficial since they prevent slipping of the brace should the volume of the knee begin to change from reduced or increased swelling. While these braces will often feel protective due to the snug fit, they often provide little support or protection to the ligaments of the knee. These braces however due provide a nice compression to the patella and can improve patellar tracking for those suffering from patellofemoral dysfunctions. Wrap around braces can also limit swelling around the knee due to their tight compressive fit.


Hinged Knee Braces

Knee Brace HingedThis kind of brace is often used for individuals who suffer from chronic knee instability which commonly arises from repeated ligament strains. A hinged brace has a metal or firm synthetic plastic bar that runs along the medial, lateral, or both sides of the knee joint. They provide increased stability and assist with high force transfers protecting the ligaments by decreasing strain and reducing risk for further injury. While these braces can be purchased online or from local sporting goods stores, a custom fitted hinged brace directly from your doctor will be the most beneficial. The reason being that we are all anatomically different and a one size fits all brace may not provide optimal support to every knee.


Rigid Knee Braces

Knee Brace Rigid ACLThese braces are often prescribed by physicians and used for individuals suffering from severely strained ligaments, partially or fully torn ligaments, or post knee surgeries. These braces prevent full knee range of motion by having locks set in place that prevent over flexing or extending of the knee joint. A rigid brace prevents increased forces or strains form effecting the surrounding ligaments, allowing for proper safe healing to occur. These braces are often worn while individuals are attending knee rehabilitation services and removed temporarily during therapy to fully strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee. If a rigid knee brace is worn beyond the prescription time frame given by the physician, it can often cause a weakening or atrophy of the surrounding muscles due to their inability to work properly while wearing the rigid brace.


Water Resistant Knee Braces

Knee Brace Water ResistantThese braces are a must for individuals who enjoy swimming, water aerobics, or maybe participating in water therapy as a part of their rehabilitative program. Knee braces that are not designed for water submersion can deteriorate and fail quicker often adding unwanted knee brace replacement costs to your budget.


If you are currently suffering from knee pain and would like to determine the exact cause of your symptoms, we would be happy to perform an extensive knee evaluation and help get you back on the fast track to full recovery. Feel free to visit our website at or give us a call to schedule an appointment today @ 406-577-2730.

Posted In: Knee Physical Therapy Athletes Physical Therapy

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