Runner's World Magazine has become a bible for amateur and professional runners alike, writer Emily Shiffer's recent article about the merits of wearing knee braces has proven to be a popular read. According to sports medicine expert Dr. Lauren Borowski of New York's Center for Women's Sports Health, wearing compression sleeves and braces to mediate pain has gone mainstream of late. But in her opinion, they can only help if runners choose the right knee brace for running.
"At some point, your knee pain may start to interfere with your running or training schedule," she notes and says that the time to consider a brace is anytime, not just when a runner suffers an acute injury that requires medical intervention. She points to professional athletes who wear knee braces as precautionary measures. Physical therapist William Kelley agrees. "I think knee brace is a great tool for high-level dynamic athletes to protect against injury."
Why Wear Knee Braces for Running?
The most logical answer to this question is that it's a good idea to wear knee braces to protect runners' knees from pain and further injury, but it's important to pick the right knee brace when you shop. There are three types of knee braces available to runners these days and each one is designed for specific levels of pain.
1. Compression sleeves offer a low level of support and tend to be the first choice of runners who like the fact that these products can be slipped on at the first indication of pain.
2. Patellar braces offer the next level of support because this brace constrains the kneecap (patella) forcing runners to track a straighter pattern that relieves knee-tendon pressure.
3. Medial/lateral support braces deliver the most robust support. Hinged features prevent knees from caving in and out, medial, and lateral collateral ligaments are protected from sprains and tears and ACLs benefit, too, since rotation isn’t possible when these hard plastic braces contain the knee.
Are Knee Braces Recommended by Experts?
-Mike Emmerling, triathlete, and engineer, suffered patellofemoral and anterior knee pain for 5+ years. He used his engineering acumen to develop dedicated patella support (type 2) and while his brace is still being tested, study participants insist that their pain disappeared immediately.
-Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas was so impressed by Emmerling's invention that he decided to endorse the product after knee pain grounded him. Thurman is now pain-free and strongly identifies with the 25% of the general population of runners who also returned to an active lifestyle using this type 2 brace.
-When the Australian Physiotherapy Association was asked to endorse "products that offer excellent health outcomes for all Australians," physicians declared branded knee braces to be an ideal remedy for "people with soft tissue injuries, arthritis or repetitive strain injuries."
-A report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information points to a dozen different studies focused on assessing the benefits of knee sleeves. All findings concluded that "knee sleeves significantly improved the functioning of the joint and allowed for increased mobility and support. They were also found to be super-effective in injury recovery and prevention."
6 Criteria for Choosing Knee Brace for Running
Like most therapeutic runners knee brace products on today's market, you should begin your search for one that suits your style, pace, and running schedule by keeping these factors in mind:
1. Size. Choosing the right size is as important as being fitted for running shoes. Yes, there are one-size-fits-all products from which to choose, and knee braces that come in sizes small, medium, and large. Your doctor should be the final word on the size you choose.
2. Style. The runner's knee brace market has become so expansive, you may be asked to choose between open and closed patella designs. Open patella styles are cut open at the front of the knee and restrict movement, especially on long runs. Closed patella products are covered with fabric, offer "slightly more support" and help blood circulate more efficiently.
3. Weight. If it meets therapeutic standards, the lighter the brace the better. Heavy knee braces can prolong the pain, delay recovery and hinder performance. Try a few on to see what feels best.
4. Material. Neoprene, polyester, and nylon are all used to fashion knee braces but if you have a choice, go for neoprene. It's recommended most often by physicians and athletes, but this material isn't breathable, thus sweat and odor can build up. Nylon and polyester feel and function equally well and offer ventilation properties.
5. Ergonomics. You don't want to devote the entirety of your run time to get in and out of the brace you select, so either a slip-on or Velcro-fastening runners knee brace is your best choice.
6. Non-slip. If you've ever been on the verge of a personal best only to find that the knee brace you're wearing slides down your leg at the most inopportune time, you know how inconvenient this can be. Further, a shifting brace won't protect your knee or mediate pain. Silicon straps and elastic fabric are your best bets.
Top Well-reviewed Knee brace for Running Brands
According to Sports Illustrated, Very Well Fit, Trusted Consumer Reviews and Best Reviews, these 10 runners knee brace brands are rated as the best of the best for 2022: