Knee Braces for Running: Should You Use One?

Knee issues can be a common inconvenience for those who do much running. Many runners have decided to use the numerous braces available online and over the counter. You may wonder if these knee braces help the knee or prevent the development of knee issues. Well, we've got this topic covered with answers to these questions. Continue reading to learn more about the different kinds of running braces and if they're worth using.

Key takeaways:

Structures of the knee

Structure of knee

The knee is made up of many important structures labeled in the image above. At the knee joint, the femur joins with the tibia and fibula. The patella (kneecap) is a type of bone called a sesamoid bone since it is embedded inside a tendon.

Since the patellar tendon connects one bone to another (the patella to the tibia), also called the patellar ligament. The patella bone and its connecting structures are important since it's the area of symptoms in runner's knee.

In addition to the patellar ligament, there are four other knee ligaments connecting bones to other bones, including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) (not shown in the diagram).

The menisci are a type of thick and fibrous cartilage used for cushioning the knee.

Knee injuries from running

The most common type of injury from running is patellofemoral pain syndrome, colloquially called runner’s knee.

Symptoms of runner's knee include pain and tenderness at and around the patella. There can be pain with running, jumping, or climbing stairs. Additional symptoms include an audible rubbing, clicking, or grinding sound.  

Other injuries can result from running but are not as common. An injury can occur in any of the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, or cartilage.

Types of knee braces for running

Running doesn't have to be painful or cause knee pain. However, for those runners who do suffer, there are a variety of knee braces that support and stabilize the knee. These types of braces also help to prevent injuries — or manage pain from previous injuries.

Knee braces for runners include the following:

  • Knee sleeves. These are tube-like braces positioned over the knee by pulling them over the foot and ankle. The knee sleeves can be neoprene (material used for wet suits) or elastic. Neoprene braces are thicker, provide more support, and sometimes are equipped with metal hinges on the sides. However, the thinner elastic braces can be more comfortable than neoprene, typically leading to less sweating.
  • Wraparound knee braces. They consist of two straps that wrap around the knee, with the straps held in place by Velcro. These braces are usually made of neoprene material.
  • Patella strap. Also known as a patella brace, this is a thin piece that wraps around the knee; it helps the patella maintain normal movement with knee flexion and extension.

Do knee braces help runners?

A prophylactic knee brace is one worn to prevent injury. Using these prophylactic knee braces for running is a source of much debate, with ongoing research still being done to see if they effectively prevent running injuries.

One study published in American Family Physician found no evidence of their effectiveness and even suggested refraining from using them regularly in the absence of symptoms. However, runners report they help in preventing knee pain and discomfort.

As a result, for many runners who feel pain, especially in the patellar (kneecap) area, it is recommended to try running with a knee brace. Although it's not been proven, if the brace helps with soreness, makes the knee feel better, or at least more secure when running, it's worth trying.

Which knee brace is best?

For runners with knee pain, the choice of brace is simple: the most comfortable brace that eases pain and provides the needed support.

If the knee pain is caused by moving the patella in the wrong direction while the knee flexes and straightens, then a simple patella strap may resolve the symptoms. Try the wraparound or knee sleeve if the patellar strap does not work.

Additionally, if the neoprene brace causes itching, using a cotton sleeve between the neoprene brace and the skin may bring relief. An old T-shirt may work if a tube-like cotton sleeve is not handy.

Knee braces may not be proven to prevent injury, but they can be helpful for helping symptoms and providing support.

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