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Shopping Guide to Knee Braces

Knee Brace Guide

If you’re an athlete, or frankly, if you leave the couch at all, the knee is the most important joint on your body. It’s also one of the most frequently injured. Below, we explore the five most common types of knee braces and introduce you to three industry leaders in knee brace production. Sound like an informed pro when you get to the doc.

1. Prophylactic Braces

Best for: Preventing sports injuries, protecting the MCL, reducing knee stiffness, and supporting the ACL, PCL, and LCL.
These braces are mainly worn as a preventative measure during high-risk sporting activities such as football, basketball and hockey. Specifically, prophylactic braces are intended to help prevent injury to the MCL. Athletes that have already suffered and recovered from an MCL injury can continue to wear a prophylactic knee brace to avoid re-injury. Their sleeves reduce the rotating ability of the knee and support cruciate ligaments during rotational stresses.

Prophylactic braces are constructed of bars, hinges, and adhesive straps and often made of neoprene.

2. Functional Braces

Best for: Sports injuries, rehabilitation, after surgery, and following ACL surgery.

Functional braces used to be the BMOC (big man on campus), serving as the primary advanced form of knee brace for most. Since that heyday, sports scientists have developed more advanced braces. But functional braces are still widely prescribed. Used after a knee injury (typically not an injury that requires going under the knife), the brace provides support while the knee is healing.

The type of functional brace you need is determined by the type of injury. There are acronym specific braces to treat MCL, ACL, PCL, LCL, and even combination injuries. Your knee doctor can help you out with this one. Inexpensive, elastic braces are the most common.

3. Rehabilitative Braces

Best for: Post-surgery, rehabilitation, restricted movement

Big and fairly bulky, these braces serve a specific purpose: post-surgery. Typically the brace is prescribed for two to eight weeks with crutches. Advanced technology in materials and technique have spurred much progress over the past few decades; these braces are much more rehabilitative than a splint or cast. They allow space for swelling, the ability to remove the brace to examine the knee, and the ability to move in a controlled range of motion.

Rehabilitative braces typically consist of foam liners that surround the calf, thigh, and knee, along with full-length rigid bars on both sides with hinges at the knee that are adjustable. A total of six to eight straps hold the brace in place. Rehabilitative braces are usually off-the-shelf and adjustable in size.

4. Unloader Braces

Best for: Knee osteoarthritis, pre-surgery, rheumatoid arthritis, stability

Unloader braces are typically prescribed to people who have medial (inner part of the knee) compartment knee osteoarthritis. By placing pressure on the thigh bone, these knee braces unload stress from the affected joint and forces the knee to bend away from the painful area.

The braces are custom-designed and made of molded plastic, steel, and foam to limit movement from side to side. They can also be helpful for those waiting to have knee replacement surgery.

5. Knee Sleeves

Best for: Knee pain, stability, reduced knee strain.

Although technically not a knee brace, it’s included here because it is the most common type of knee support. Often worn by the casual athlete or exerciser (including tennis or racquetball players, joggers and walkers), the sleeves provide compression around the knee joint and some mild knee stability.

Knee sleeves are typically made of material such as neoprene, drytex, or Polartec and are the least expensive type of knee support.


The breadth and depth of knee brace availability is endless. Start with these three industry leaders. Ask for them by name from your healthcare professional.

1. DonJoy

The perceived industry leader, DonJoy pioneered the concept of functional knee bracing over 30 years ago.

2. Breg

Founded in 1989, Breg offers cold therapy, knee, shoulder, spine, elbow/wrist, foot/ankle bracing and orthopedic practice solutions.

3. McDavid

McDavid has been at the sharp end of sports medicine advancements, technology and thinking for over three decades.

We wish you a speedy recovery to all that ails you!


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Advanced Physical Medicine is a multi-disciplinary wellness clinic that offers pain management and rehabilitation to patients in Chicagoland and beyond. When it comes to healthcare, APM utilizes a variety of different specialists including medical doctors, podiatrists, physical therapists, chiropractors and neurosurgeons to make joint decisions regarding the best treatment for you. Each treatment plan is tailored specifically according to your needs. You see, at APM, we treat you as a person, and we are always happy to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today and experience the difference with APM. We look forward to talking to you.