While running isn’t linked to increased knee pain, more than half of all running injuries involve the knee. As a result, we often see knee braces used when dealing with pain and injuries related to the knees.
It poses the obvious question: do knee braces actually help? And when should you wear one for running?
As a general rule, runners should only wear knee braces when they are suffering from knee-related chronic conditions, or recovering from knee surgery or injury. That’s because improper use of braces could make runners dependent on wearing a support device that isn’t optimal for their needs.
Below we will take a closer look at what you should know if you’re considering a knee brace for running. But the most important point is to seek out a professional diagnosis before trying to ‘correct’ any issue with a knee brace.
You may end up creating a muscular imbalance or doing more harm than good.
- When Should Runners Wear Knee Braces?
- The Benefits Of Running With A Knee Brace
- Choosing The Right Knee Brace For Running
When Should Runners Wear Knee Braces?
Research and studies have shown that contrary to many old wives tales, running is not actually associated with increased knee pain – in fact, running could be beneficial to people experiencing mild knee pain.
However, another study conducted by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that almost half of all running injuries involve the knee.
What does that mean?
It sounds like running is good for the knees… until you get injured, when suddenly it isn’t!
If you’re experiencing a bout of knee pain, you might be wondering whether running with a knee brace will alleviate your pain and let you keep running. Will a knee brace be a proper solution for your knee pain or injury, or will it merely relieve the pain without dealing with the underlying cause of your pain?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question.
While knee braces can be beneficial to runners recovering from surgeries or injuries, improper use of knee braces could result in runners becoming overly dependent on running with this support device.
Generally, knee braces are used for rehabilitation after sustaining an injury or undergoing surgery. One of the main functions of a knee brace is to provide people with enough support to perform the exercise necessary to make a full recovery. In this sense, knee braces are a tool to aid recovery. They are not designed to provide indefinite and sustained support.
When a knee brace is used properly after a surgery or injury, the need to wear it will gradually diminish until the brace is no longer needed. Similarly, knee braces are also recommended for those with chronic conditions that impact the knees, such as osteoarthritis, Anterior Knee Pain, or Patella Tendinopathy.
Overall, knee braces should only be worn by runners suffering from chronic conditions or recovering from a surgery or injury. However, runners should avoid using knee braces when it’s not necessary.
A better alternative is to seek out the underlying cause of the knee pain, and to attack the source.
Could it be your running form – or a poor technique – that is causing the issue? Possibly.
Could it be a structural weakness elsewhere in the affected leg? Possibly.
Deciding If You Should Run With A Knee Brace
It can be difficult to determine whether your knee pain or injury truly requires the extra support of a knee brace while running. To ensure you should be wearing a knee brace when running, you should consult with a medical professional.
In essence, it’s not a decision you should make yourself. Although you should certainly communicate back and forth with your doctor/physio if you see improvements or additional pain from any changes made.
Your doctor can take a closer look at your knee and the underlying cause of your pain or injury.
There are several circumstances in which he/she may recommend that you try the knee brace:
- To support a knee injury: If you have a common knee injury, such as a strain, sprain, or tear, a knee brace can provide support and stability to the joint, helping to protect the injury and reduce pain. It’s worth noting however that you may also be given the advice a runner hates most: “Rest it up for a couple of weeks…“
- To prevent knee injuries: A knee brace can also be used as a preventive measure if the doctor assesses that you are likely to sustain an injury without one. For example, if you have weak or unstable knees that can’t support your running gait.
- To manage chronic knee conditions: Lastly, if you have a chronic knee condition, such as osteoarthritis, a doctor may advise wearing a knee brace to help manage the condition and reduce pain and discomfort while running. This is more common in older runners, but not always.
As we’ve mentioned, a knee brace should only be used as a temporary measure if it can be avoided.
You may be advised to try physical therapy, anti-inflammation tablets, or even to work on adopting a more efficient running technique.
This last point is key.
No runner wants to hear that his body is breaking down on him, but it’s amazing how many runners would choose to adopt knee braces and protectors before attempting to alter a poor technique.
Some runners in their 70s and 80s have gone a lifetime without facing any knee injuries. What most of them have in common is luck and an efficient running technique.
The Benefits Of Running With A Knee Brace
If a professional has recommended that you use a knee brace while running, you might be wondering about how using the brace will impact your running. While knee braces should only be used under certain circumstances, as we discussed above, there are some advantages to using these braces.
(Which is why everybody wants to try them!)
Knee Braces Can Improve Your Running Form
Bad running form can result in a tremendous toll on the knees (and ankles). When using a knee brace to recover from an injury, the knee brace will promote proper running forms. Ultimately, the goal is that by using a knee brace, it will benefit you in the long run and prevent you from injuring your knees when you no longer need the brace.
This is assuming that you ‘lock in’ the technical changes and don’t revert to bad old habits when you remove the brace.
Easier said than done…
Knee Braces Can Keep Your Knees Aligned
Knee braces are designed to keep your knee aligned properly. That is the primary objective of wearing one.
Essentially, it keeps the knee’s joint in line with your hip. When running with an unaligned knee, you can put unnecessary stress on your ligaments, which can cause them to stretch and tear.
Aligning your knees is one of the key steps towards negating this risk, but it is a notoriously difficult change to make. Anything that messes with your running stride will take patience and practice to adopt in the long-term.
Knee Braces Minimize Impacts On Your Joints
While using a knee brace, the device will minimize the impacts on your joints by sharing some of the loaded force when you plant your feet.
Ultimately, how the device accomplishes this depends on the type of knee brace you choose.
However, using a knee brace to minimize the impact on your joints allows you to run or train a little bit more efficiently while recovering from an injury.
For many runners, the knee brace is something of a psychological crutch. It’s easy to get in to the habit of relying on a knee brace to soak up some of the punishing miles, but don’t be fooled: you can’t deceive your body like this in the long term.
More likely, the injury will just travel up or down the leg instead, affecting another muscle or joint that is struggling to compensate.
Knee Braces Reduce Pain From Chronic Conditions
There are many chronic conditions that can impact your knees, which can make it harder to run.
If you want to avoid giving up running due to your chronic condition, a knee brace may allow you to eek out some extra miles that wouldn’t otherwise have been a price worth paying.
Choosing The Right Knee Brace For Running
Knee braces are available in a wide variety of types, shapes, and sizes. To choose the best knee brace for your needs, you should carefully consider the different knee braces that are commonly used to treat knee-related pain and conditions.
It can be a little daunting at first glance, so here’s a summary of the types of knee braces for runners:
Compression Knee Braces
Compression knee braces are one of the most basic types.
This type of knee brace is ideal for smaller knee-related injuries, such as a meniscus tear. These braces slide over your knee and distribute even pressure around your knee. When you’re running, the compression brace will transfer the pressure from your joints to the stronger bone and muscle surrounding your knee.
The advantage of a compression knee brace is that they generally do a very good job of protecting an isolated injury.
The downside is that the rest of your kinetic chain will become much more susceptible to injuries. The impact of running doesn’t disappear, it just transfers elsewhere.
Hinged Knee Braces
Hinged knee braces are one of the most supportive types, which is why they are commonly used to treat serious knee injuries. The name of this type is derived from the metal hinges on the sides of the brace, which allow you to move your knee while still getting support from the brace.
Ultimately, these braces are designed to prevent your knee from moving to the side without hindering your mobility too much. Like compression braces, this type of brace can be used to recover after an injury and restore your knee’s functionality.
However, this is one of the hardest braces to run it.
It’s not a particularly enjoyable experience to run in a hinged knee brace, and if you are in a situation where you require one, you should almost certainly be running a very light schedule. Easy miles only.
Patellar Tracking Knee Braces
As a result of weakness in their hips, many runners experience their knees falling inward when they run. Ultimately, only strength training will help deal with these pains in the long term.
However, a patellar tracking knee brace can help you start your healing journey on the right note. This type of brace will help you refine your running form, which is key to making a positive longer lasting change.
Unloader Knee Braces
Unloader knee braces provide stability, support, and pain relief for sufferers of conditions like osteoarthritis. With osteoarthritis, only one side of the knee joint is usually affected. However, specialized unloader braces provide a fantastic solution to this.
Essentially, unloader braces allow pressure to be transferred from one side of the joint to the other side.
Wrap-Around Knee Braces
Like compression braces, wrap-around knee braces are one of the most widely used types. These braces open to one side, allowing the user to wrap the brace around their knee. The main benefit of this type of knee brace is that it allows you to adjust the tightness to your needs.
These braces are commonly used to treat knee sprains, and you’re sure to find dozens of them at the starting line of any long-distance race. For those prone to injuring their knees, it can be a great knee brace to use as it provides preventative support without affecting your stride.
Have you tried running with a knee brace? Which option did you go with?
Let us know your experience of slaying the dreaded runner’s knee!