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Complete Guide to Knee Braces & Orthotics

For those who suffer from knee pain, a knee orthotic or knee brace is an important tool to help you on the road to recovery. At MMAR, we specialize in supplying top-of-the-line information on knee brace technology.

We get a lot of questions about the different types of knee braces, what they are, what they do, and how to maintain them. To better help our customers, we’ve put together this guide to knee orthotics - a single place to get all the information you need to make your knee brace decision.

Different Types of Knee Braces

A healthy knee can flex, bend and straighten easily and without pain. While the knee’s function may seem simple, a knee injury can be complicated, annoying and painful. Since knees are fundamental to walking, running, kicking and sitting, an injury can derail many of life’s enjoyable activities. If you have suffered a knee injury, your physician can help guide you to the right brace to help rehabilitate and facilitate movement. This guide is intended to offer you a quick summary on what types of knee braces are available and their usefulness.

Post Operative Knee Braces

Post-op Knee Braces As the name implies, these braces are used for post-operative support and rehabilitation. A quality post-op knee brace should be lightweight, but durable. Depending on your rehabilitation needs, you may need a brace with a full range of motion, or one with immobilization or limited range of motion settings. Post-op braces are available in different lengths, often feature moldable pieces, and should be easily adjusted for a perfect fit. Look for breathable materials and user-friendly adjustment features.

Functional-OA Knee Brace

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects over 20 million Americans and involves the erosion of joint cartilage. A functional-OA knee brace can be used to stabilize knees suffering OA symptoms, reducing pain and additional erosion of the joint. Typically a knee is affected on either the outside (lateral) or inside (medial) of the leg, though it is not unheard of to have a knee with OA symptoms on both sides of the knee. The brace hinge should be situated on the side or sides that are affected, and should be lightweight, durable, and easily adjustable. Since they will be worn for an indefinite prolonged period of time, comfort is very important.

Functional-Ligament Knee Brace

The stability of the knee joint is maintained by four ligaments, the ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL. A common sports injury, a torn knee ligament is usually treated with a functional ligament hinged knee brace. Torn or unstable knee ligaments require a lightweight, durable brace that supports the joint. Look for braces that offer the four-point principle for biomechanical stabilization.

Contracture Knee Braces

A knee contracture is the shortening of a tendon resulting in a restricted range of motion and pain. Under medical supervision, a contracture knee brace can be used to support the knee and increase flexibility over time. Look for adjustment range, comfort, and durability. Padding should be breathable and non-irritating. Contracture and post-op knee braces are occasionally interchangeable.

How to Choose the Right Knee Brace

Knee braces have been used for decades to expedite the healing process as well as to prevent future injury. If you have recently injured your knee or have been noticing pains, aches or the like, a knee brace can reduce pain, increase mobility, and provide additional support. Selecting the appropriate knee brace for your individual problem can be a bit confusing. There are many different types of knee braces, all for different issues. It’s important to do your research, understand your condition, and consult your doctor before deciding on a knee brace.

Factors to Consider

If you’re looking to buy a medical knee brace, it’s good to a keep few important aspects in mind.

What part of the knee are you trying to protect?

From MCL and ACL tear braces to patella stabilizers, different braces aid different parts of the knee. A dislocated knee cap, for example, requires entirely different brace system than a torn ligament or arthritic joints. Likewise, there are several tendons and ligaments in the knee that are prone to tearing, all of which require a specific type of support during rehabilitation. It is critical to pinpoint the underlying issue or issues behind your knee pain and select a medical knee brace accordingly. Once a doctor diagnoses what part or parts of the knee is the underlying source of the problem, you can begin finding the proper brace.

What is the extent of your activity?

The nature of your daily activities should play a big role in the brace your decide for yourself. A high impact basketball player requires a completely different brace than an individual who suffers from day-to-day osteoarthritis.

Prophylactic vs. Functional Knee Braces

There are two main categories of knee braces: Prophylactic and functional. Prophylactic knee braces are those used by individuals, mostly athletes, strictly for injury prevention. These users have not necessarily incurred injuries in the past, but hope to avoid them by keeping the knee properly supported. These braces are particularly popular with professional football players. They are usually made of elastic and are simpler in nature. These braces allow regular mobility and knee movement as well as breathable, comfortable material. These may include a pull-on sleeve made from neoprene that holds the knee tightly and insulates warmth that increases blood supply to the knee.

Functional knee braces are braces used by those that have indeed incurred a ligament injury and are in a recuperative phase. In this case, functional knee braces should be worn in a conjoined physical therapy program that includes knee strengthening and muscle development.

Functional knee braces are frequently hinged. Hinged knee braces are more "heavy duty" than standard prophylactic braces and offer more support and stability. These braces are used for lateral (outside of knee joint), medial (inner side of knee joint), or ACL injury (anterior cruciate ligament).

Arthritis braces are also popularly known as unloader knee braces. Unloader or OA braces are another type of functional brace that serve to relieve the stress and pain of the knee caused by arthritis. This brace is typically made from plastic or foam and contains metal parts that limit the range of motion to the wearer. These movement limitations ensure that the knee is kept in place. In addition to controlling movement, unloader braces add pressure to the affected area shifting the pressure and stress from the painful part of the knee to a healthier, less painful one. Changes from using an unloader brace are generally displayed by angular changes, bone spur formation decreased cartilage, and joint space narrowing.

So whether you just incurred a knee injury, have been suffering from arthritic knee problems for some time, or just wish to prevent knee injury in the future, a knee brace may be just what you’re looking for. But remember, always consult a medical professional that understands your knee pain before buying a brace for yourself.

Knee Braces for Post Operative Recovery

Knee pain, whether chronic or acute, is one of the most common complaints affecting the skeletal structure that doctors see and treat with regularity in an active society. The knee is taxed to bend and rotate and often manages to accommodate such movements when it shouldn't leading to strains, sprains and other injuries.

Among the conditions that can lead to surgery are:

  • Ligament Injuries - most often the result of athletic activity affecting any of the four separate ligaments responsible for stabilizing the knee joint. They are the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). Injury can occur from twisting the knee with the foot planted, hyper-extension, sudden stopping in the midst of running, shifting weight from one leg to the other, jumping, landing in a flexed position or direct impact to the knee.
  • Dislocation of the Knee Cap - occurring after a sudden or unexpected changing of direction on a planted leg position or else from direct impact.
  • Cartilage Injuries - having a wide range of causes from genetics, to meniscal or patella tendon injuries, to Osteochondral Defects, to arthritis, to instability from weaknesses, the result of repeated micro-traumas or a single impact.
  • Condylar Fractures - affecting the lower end of the femur corrected with a groin-to-toe plaster for un-displaced fractures or surgery for displaced fractures.
  • Tibial Plateau Fractures - involving the most critical area in the knee that accommodates load-bearing, the upper end of the tibia bone.
  • High Tibial Osteotomy (HTO) - knee surgery to repair osteoarthritis.

The ability to perform myriad movements on a joint as complex as the knee presents the possibility of incapacity. The most frequent complaints of pain and injury come from those participating in such sports as basketball, football and skiing. Recognizing the potential for injury and the subsequent need for recovery that will support the joint during repair, there are a series of post-operative knee braces from which to choose to help in this process.

Selecting a Post-Operative Knee Brace

Rehabilitation and recovery can occur very soon after surgery in most case, with the need to focus on mobility while strengthening the knee. This means being able to have a stabilized range of motion as the damaged knee and surrounding muscles are worked. Immobilizing the knee is necessary to prevent further injury while still allowing for a range of movement, depending upon the degree of injury. In some cases, complete immobilization is necessary to promote healing.

The post-op knee braces available today have features that allow for adjusting compression and range of flexibility through the use of rigid hinges and straps that can be fitted for comfort and adjusted for the best therapy while in use. They have been designed to allow for control of bending and straightening the knee joint along with the flexion and extension that normally occurs through movement. This can be achieved with the use of locking mechanisms that enable a patient to lock the brace out in full extension so as to prevent any flexing of the knee joint, or by degree, depending upon what has been prescribed by the surgeon.

Manufactured in either telescoping or pre-determined lengths for an individual's specific height, these braces are able to accommodate cold therapy wraps or dressings to aid in speedier recovery. Some of the braces have a limited 6 month warranty, in the case of Donjoy post-op braces, while others have a 30 day return policy. Among the manufacturers, there are brands made by Breg, New Option Sports, Ossur, Orthotic Rehab, Donjoy, Hely Weber, Deroyal, Neuroflex, Comfy, Thermoskin and RCAI. These brands represent only the highest quality post-operative knee braces available on the market today.

When to Use a Knee Wrap or Knee Sleeve

Let's properly differentiate the purpose of a knee sleeve and a knee brace. A knee sleeve serves as protection against future injuries or lower the risk of knee damage; a knee brace is meant to support any previous injuries you may have from further trauma. Using one or the other at inappropriate times could cause more harm than not using one in the first place. Technically, you should always consult your physician if you are experiencing any knee discomfort before you commit and make a purchase.

Knee wraps consist of a long, stretchable wrap material, usually made of combinations of cotton, elastic, and synthetic fibers. The wrap is a single length of material that is systematically wrapped tightly around the knee joint. The wrap is kept in place by fastening Velcro at the end of the length to the rest of the wrap.

In essence, knee wraps provide effective, yet less extensive support for relatively minor knee issues. Here, wrapping can done as desired in order to achieve maximum comfort. The wearer can expect some heat build-up, slight circulation hindrance, and the need to re-wrap from time to time. The benefits though include increased support and possible pain relief. Here are some of our recommended knee sleeves:

McDavid Knee Sleeve

The McDavid Knee Sleeve is made out of latex-free neoprene on the inside and heavy-duty nylon fabric on the outside. Compared to regular cloth sleeves, neoprene sleeves provide more warmth and compression to your knees which contributes to preventing future casualties or injuries. The back of this knee sleeve is seamless and made in consideration of the anatomical design, so the McDavid Knee Sleeve could help make daily movement less painful for those who suffer from knee inflammation due to arthritis, bursitis or tendonitis.

Breg Knee Support

The Breg Knee Support is also a neoprene sleeve designed to provide warmth, compression, and support. This knee sleeve is a great option because of the many custom additions you can choose from in order to personalize it to your specific needs; the Breg Knee Support can come with additional padding, open patella, open back, or any combination of these options. It's a great multi-purpose sleeve that reduces muscle vibration from work-outs or activities like running or basketball.

CEP Knee Sleeve

The CEP Knee Sleeve is one of our best knee sleeves for compression purposes. A properly compressed knee will promote increased blood flow through the blood vessels of the knee to help reduce pain, and this knee sleeve does the job with ease. On top of improving blood circulation, you can also expect it to stabilize your muscles and joints, improve coordination, and help with overpronation. Overpronation causes the kneecap to twist sideways and become displaced, so the CEP Knee Sleeve acts to keep your kneecaps on track.

DonJoy Drytex Basic Knee Sleeve

Instead of neoprene, the DonJoy Drytex Basic Knee Sleeve is made out of a neoprene alternative: a blend of nylon and polyester Lycra fabric. This is perfect for those who want to receive all of the great benefits of neoprene but experience irritation or discomfort to the material due to allergies or warm climates. This drytex knee sleeve keeps your knee warm and compressed but allows for improved airflow and ventilation.

Remember, your knees may feel strong and mighty, but they are an unpredictable joint that is prone to injuries. The precautions you take now can help lower the risk of debilitating damage in the future. Live your life free of pain, and see if any of our many knee sleeves would be beneficial to you.

Knee Brace Cleaning & Maintenance

One of the biggest questions for support brace wearers is, “how can I clean my brace?” Cleaning your support brace can be a difficult process especially with so many different types of materials. Here at MMAR Medical we understand that this can be a problem, and we want you to get the most out of your support brace. Whether you’re cleaning your knee brace or shoulder brace the following article will give you some cleaning tips to have your brace smelling new in no time!

Cleaning Solution

Using normal cleaning products is not recommended when cleaning your sport braces. The normal cleaning solutions can cause the materials in the support brace to weaken and provide less protection and strength. The following solution is relatively simple, but it will remove the smell from the brace without risking the support.

To get started you need 4 things:

  • Warm/hot water
  • Dish Soap (2-3 Tablespoons)
  • Wash Cloth
  • Container to hold the water

Fill up a bucket with the warm water and add the soap. Once the soap has been added, add a little more water to cause the soap to mix and create bubbles. Make sure you don’t add too much soap so that it won’t stay in the fabric and irritate your skin.

How to Clean Your Brace

Take the wash cloth and rub down the metal and scrub the fabric to remove all visible dirt. When all the excess dirt has been removed, submerge the support brace in your container of water. Leave the brace to soak for roughly an hour. After this time most of the smell-causing bacteria should be removed.

How to Dry Your Knee Brace

Always hang dry your support brace. It is suggested that you hang dry in the sun, but make sure that you don’t leave the brace in direct contact with the sun for too long. If you can’t hang dry you can also place the brace on a towel and let it air dry. Drying should NEVER be done in the dryer. This can cause weakness in the fabric.

If your brace has metal parts make sure to apply a small amount of lubricant to the hinges to ensure that they continue to bend smoothly. When cleaning your brace follow the instructions carefully. Keeping a close eye on how long you soak it and keep it in the sun is crucial to maintaining a strong brace. All of our sport braces at MMAR Medical are the highest quality but should be cared for carefully. If you have any questions regarding a knee brace, shoulder brace or any other of our products, please contact the MMAR Medical team and we’ll help answer them right away!