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How do knee supports work?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 7 minutes read
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Knee supports come in different forms such as knee braces and knee sleeves. They have become very popular with those who are dealing with any sort of knee pain. The additional support that a knee brace can offer is one of the big selling points, and the variety of different options available means there is something for everyone.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about knee supports, how they work and which one is right for you.

What are knee supports?

If you have some pain in your knee, braces and supports can help. They’re typically made of fabrics that have some stretchiness to them, so they can be comfortably worn without fully restricting the wearer’s movement. They come in different types with sleeves being something that can be easily pulled over the knee while a brace is usually attached around the knee with Velcro straps.

Knee supports can be used to treat injuries such as swelling, sprains, bursitis, tendonitis, arthritis, runners knee and cartilage irritation.

When you put weight on your knees, a lot of pressure is added to your knee joints and the muscles in this area are also stretched. For those with healthy knees, this isn’t an issue; however, for those who have suffered a knee injury or have weakened knees due to things like arthritis, this pressure can cause significant pain in the knee and joints.

How Do Knee Supports Work?

Knee braces help provide additional support to the knee by reducing motion, while still allowing the wearer to remain mobile without having to put all their weight on their knee. This helps take some of the weight off of the knee joint, which can help prevent straining it again.

Braces and sleeves not only provide support, but sometimes can be used to retain heat around the knee. This increases circulation and can also reduce the amount of time needed to heal. However, in the initial few days of injury there can be a large amount of swelling, in which case ice is more beneficial.

Injuries can take longer to heal without sufficient circulation, so keeping your knee warm is important, especially during the winter months and for those living in colder climates. If a knee support sounds like it could help, we recommend the Neo G Hinged Open Knee Support, which comes in a universal size for a comfortable fit.

When to wear a knee support

When should you wear a knee support?

When to wear a knee brace will depend on your situation. Your doctor or healthcare professional may give you recommendations on if you should wear one and how often.

A knee support is typically worn:

  • During physical activities or sports that involve repetitive knee movements or high impact
  • When recovering from a knee injury or surgery
  • If you experience knee pain or instability during daily activities
  • When participating in activities that put stress on the knees, such as running or jumping
  • If you have a history of knee problems or chronic knee pain
  • When engaging in activities that require prolonged kneeling or squatting
  • If your knee joints feel weak or have a tendency to buckle or give way

When should you not wear a knee support?

While knee supports or knee braces can provide stability and support for individuals with knee injuries or conditions, there are certain situations where they may not be appropriate or necessary. Here are a few scenarios where wearing knee support may not be recommended:

  • Minor or temporary discomfort: If you experience mild or temporary knee discomfort that doesn't require medical attention, wearing a knee support may not be necessary. Rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications may be sufficient for relief.
  • Inadequate fit: If the knee support doesn't fit properly, it may not provide the intended benefits and could potentially cause discomfort or restrict movement. It's essential to choose the right size and type of knee support and ensure it fits properly before using it.
  • Unnecessary dependence: Relying too heavily on knee supports can lead to weakened muscles and reduced joint stability over time. If you're using knee supports as a preventative measure without a specific injury or condition, it's important to strike a balance between providing support and allowing your muscles to strengthen naturally. You need to do exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee when recovering from injury. This promotes a knee support-free lifestyle.

If you have any concerns about your knee health or the appropriateness of wearing a knee support, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate assessment and guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Managing knee pain

If knee pain is getting in the way of your daily activities, you might want to consider using joint pain relief alongside using a knee support. Common types of relief include Flexiseq and Voltaren.

How to choose your knee support

When choosing a knee support, you want one that is going to be comfortable, easy to use, and suited to your body and lifestyle.

You should consider the following when selecting one for yourself:

  • Knee supports can limit mobility. If you live an active life, you’ll want one that doesn’t limit your mobility too much. A sleeve may be your best option. THE GREATER THE SUPPORT THE LOWER THE FLEXIBILITY. And vice versa.
  • Size and fit is very important. Ensure the knee support provides a snug fit without being uncomfortably tight. You can measure your knee circumference and compare it to the manufacturer's sizing chart to find out if the size is right for you.
  • If you’ve had an injury, the knee brace you’ll need may depend on the type of injury and the severity.
  • Your doctor, physical therapist, or other healthcare professional may have made a recommendation. If they haven’t, you could ask them for their advice.
  • Cost of the knee support could also be a factor as they can vary greatly in price. The material used can impact this along with the brand. They can be made from a combination of metal, foam, plastic, or elastic material and straps.
  • During hot summer months, you’ll want a knee brace that is made from breathable material to prevent excessive sweating and discomfort while wearing for extended periods.

It’s important your knee brace is correctly positioned and fitted to ensure it’s providing you with the best possible support. Having it fitted correctly will be more comfortable and reduce the chance of further strain or injury.

A brace should be used during any physical activities where you apply pressure to your knee. Any movements like running and jumping increase the pressure on your knee joint, so a knee support should be worn during any exercise that involves this.

What are the different types of knee support?

You have more than one choice when it comes to knee supports. They can be used for different needs depending on the type of support you are looking for.

1. Functional braces

If you’ve suffered a previous injury, this type provides support to the knees and can be worn even after you’ve healed. They are very popular with athletes and they help stabilize the knee and control motion to reduce the chances of another injury.

2. Rehabilitative braces

Following an injury or surgery, rehabilitative braces are worn for multiple weeks to keep the knee stable while still allowing some movement. They do restrict movement which is recommended while healing; however, your doctor will let you know if they believe you require one as they are not always necessary.

3. Unloader braces

For those who have arthritis in their knees, an unloader brace can help shift the weight from the damaged area of the knee to an area that is capable of holding more weight.

4. Prophylactic braces

These braces are designed for those who play a contact sport. Their purpose is to help protect the wearer's knees and reduce the chances of an injury. Many athletes have started using prophylactic braces, although more studies are being done to examine their effectiveness.

5. Knee sleeves

Sleeves work by providing warmth and compression around the knee which helps to increase blood flow. They can help reduce pain and swelling while also providing support to the knee.

How do I care for my knee brace?

Knee braces will wear down and need replacing in time. It’s important to make sure it doesn’t have any rips or tears, as this can reduce the support and effectiveness of your knee brace. Cleaning your knee brace can be done regularly if required with soap and water. If your brace has any metal parts, it’s best to make sure they are covered to avoid scratching yourself or injuring someone else.

If your brace is damaged, you should replace it, otherwise it will not be working as intended. Opting for knee supports from reputable brands that offer good quality and durability will help ensure it lasts longer before you need to replace it.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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