Best Knee Brace For Running

Out of the top five most common injuries runners experience, three affect the knee: femoral patella syndrome (runner's knee), iliotibial band syndrome (IBTS), and meniscus tears (source).

That means that getting extra support is not only smart but essential to a runner's long-term knee health. The caveat is that not all knee support products are created equal, far from it.

To come up with the TOP 4 picks for this guide, I independently researched over 70 knee braces and sleeves. We also talked to runners and physical therapists about what precisely to look for in a good brace.

Without much ado, let's get to the results.

These are the TOP 4 best knee braces for running:

Best Knee Brace for Running -
DonJoy Deluxe Hinged

This DonJoy knee brace is the overall winner, which means it was king of the hill in most categories that matter to runners in need of medium support.

In fact, it's also popular among orthopedics doctors - I've talked to runners who got it because it was prescribed. In this scenario, the total cost of the DonJoy Deluxe will be 500-900 % higher than the price you'd pay if you got it for yourself.

Yes, you read that right, five to nine times more.

Who is it for?

The medium support level is suitable for most runners with any knee pain or a history of unstable knees - both for relief and injury prevention.

PROS

  • Bilateral hinges are at the sweet spot between support and freedom of movement
  • Great for limiting hyper-extension and improving lateral stability
  • The open design areas on both front and back of the brace eliminate discomfort and friction burns
  • Easy to get on and off
  • The Drytex fabric keeps it breathable and comfy even on those long runs
  • It fits snug without being too tight - 7 sizes available
  • Affordable - I've seen similar satisfaction stats in braces of this type, but they cost 3-4 times more

CONS

  • I've seen one too many reports of people receiving faulty products (about 0.8% of buyers). The positive here is that I've also seen the DonJoy customer support efficiently responding to complaints. They typically replaced any faulty products within three days.

Best Knee Compression Sleeve for Runners -
Bauerfeind Sports Knee Support

Bauerfeind is one of the most trusted premium brands. The German giant has over eight decades of experience in compressive therapy and rehabilitation.

The premium part is reflected in the fact that a one-year warranty on manufacturing defects backs up all Bauerfeind products. You also have 30 days to return any of their products if you don't like it.

Based on everything I've seen, this sleeve is the top choice for runners looking for something seamless that still offers medical-grade compression.

Who is it for?

It's best suited for runners that want to protect the knees or get relief from mild to moderate knee pain.

PROS

  • It goes way beyond what you typically see in a sleeve
  • Targeted wings for lateral support
  • Medical grade compression
  • Breathable, moisture-wicking material
  • Machine-washable (more importantly, doesn't lose proprieties with long-term use - I've seen this happen way too often in similar products)
  • Slick modern design and three color combos

CONS

  • I've seen occasional reports of skin irritation from long runs in hot weather.

Best Strap for Runners -
Run Forever patella Support

This strap is a simple, well-made product with an exceptionally high satisfaction percentage among runners.

It costs about as much as two Venti Lattes and still delivers on all its promises.

The strap sub-section of the market is probably the most saturated, with hundreds of products competing for runner's attention. That speaks volumes about the quality of the Run Forever Strap.

PROS

  • Ergonomic design that hits all the right spots to offer relief from knee pain
  • Easy to adjust and doesn't move, slip or slide
  • Focused patella support without limiting movement (which is not a given with straps)
  • Sturdy, high-quality materials that last; balanced with a soft finish to avoid irritation
  • Lifetime guarantee

CONS

  • I've seen sizing problems in people with exceptionally thin or thick legs; this accounts for about 0.3% of buyers.

Best for runners with meniscus problems and a history of instabilities - McDavid MD4205

Here's the skinny - if this McDavid knee brace doesn't offer enough support, you probably shouldn't be running. This sturdy brace is level 3 on the McDavid scale, which is the highest.

They describe the support level as being for 'moderate to major instabilities.'

Who is it for?

It's an excellent choice for runners recovering from injuries and those with a history of moderate to major instabilities. It goes without saying that the decision of whether you should be running is to be made in consultations with your physician.

PROS

  • Robust support for a range of patella problems from injury recovery to lateral and medial instability
  • The top and bottom over-wrap system allows good freedom of movement (for the support level)
  • Personalized fit
  • Comfortable and easily adjustable

CONS

  • This is a robust brace, and if you want to hide it, you'll probably need loose-fit bottoms. This isn't a CON per se, but it deserves a mention.
  • No color choices

A Runner's Guide to Knee Braces

The one question that kept popping up, typically from less experienced runners, is, "Should I run with a knee brace?"

The answer to that is a resounding 'yes.' Given that your physician concurs, of course.

I've been writing about knee braces for longer than I care to remember, and I am yet to see a meaningful negative side of taking precautions of ridding yourself of pain.

Knee braces are a great tool to do that.

That goes double if you're recovering from an injury or have a history of knee instability. With that out of the way, let us move on to the 'meat" of this guide - how to choose a brace that's worth your money and fits your needs.

Types of Knee Support Braces to Consider

Basic compression sleeve

This is the lowest you can go in terms of knee support. Compression sleeves are safe and typically used by runners with mild pain they're experiencing for the first time.

They cannot harm but provide little support.

Patellar braces

Patellar braces are typically the first support tool runners reach for when they experience any pain around the kneecap (patella).. That's where the Bauerfeind mentioned above belongs.

It might look like a sleeve to the uneducated eye, but it's much more intricate than that.

Straps

If the pain is localized to the patellar tendon (central part of the knee, just below the knee cap), it might make sense to apply some pressure to the area.

This is what a strap does.

Lateral and medial braces

This is the group where the DonJoy and the McDavid brace I listed above belong. They actively stabilize the knee and protect the ligaments and the ACL.

In the more moderate variant, they support the knee by using strategically placed wraps. The more serious ones rely on some type of hinges to guide your knee.

Quality Aspects to Consider

Fit

How well a brace fits will make a world of difference for any serious runner. At best, it can be seamless to the point of you forgetting about it . At worst, it can move and gnaw on your skin.

Knit/fabric/materials

When it comes to materials, different criteria apply to different types of braces. With sleeves, I'd go with elastic knitted fabric and stay away from neoprene.

With hinged braces and straps, neoprene is irreplaceable. It's not a breathable material, but the better brands offset the issue through intelligent design.

What other runners are saying about it

Wherever I say here, it can't replace reading the first-hand experience from runners in circumstances similar to yours. If you like one of the braces I chose, I recommend continuing your research by reading what other people shared about it.

When not to wear a brace

If you're experiencing trauma, swelling, or acute pain that doesn't go away as you warm up, experts recommend against reaching for a brace on your own.

For two reasons:

  1. If you don't know what you're dealing with, you might be causing more harm than good
  2. You might not need it

 

Final Verdict

Any passionate runner will agree that running is about finding your inner peace. That's a tall order to fill. And while I can't offer much on the philosophy side, I can try and help with a significant runners' fret - keeping your knees healthy.

As Baron Hansen said, "Life is short. Running makes it seem longer." Let's keep it that way.

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