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