If you look around any athletic training room or physical therapy office, you’re likely to find a knee brace or two lying around. They are incredibly useful in cases of knee sprains, instability, or injury. Knee injury prevention, as well as recovery, can be assisted with the use of a brace, but how are you to know which style brace is best?
Two different styles of knee braces you’re likely to find are sleeves and wraparound. They are not created equal, and they serve different roles, depending on the injury, patient age, activity level or sport, and condition of the knee-joint. Find out what the key differences are between these two styles, and you’ll be better equipped to reach for the right brace for yourself.
Sleeve Knee Braces
Sleeve style braces are probably the most common type of knee brace. Sleeves pull onto the leg over the foot and fit snugly around the knee-joint when pulled up into place. Many sleeves have built-in pull-tabs to help pull the brace up into place. Knee sleeves may provide patellar support, ligament stability, warmth, compression, or assist the functioning of the joint. Many of these sleeves are neoprene fabric that creates a tight compression around the joint. These types of sleeves create warmth and the compression helps to reduce swelling. Newer designs now use moisture-wicking materials and hypoallergenic materials for those allergic to neoprene or wanting a ‘cooler’ option. Some knee sleeves have integrated hinges into the sleeve to add stability during sports or daily life activities. Hinged knee sleeves help keep everything stable and protect the cartilage and ligaments within the knee. Other knee sleeve options may have buttresses or straps built into the sleeve that helps pull the knee cap (patella) into proper alignment or reduce the risk of subluxation and dislocation.
Sleeve style braces are often used for knee injury prevention or in the later stages of rehabilitation. In many different activities such as basketball, football, running, or soccer, the knee-joint can be put under tremendous stress from contact or repetitive movements. A compression sleeve can aid in supporting the joint and assist it to move in a more natural and less painful fashion. Your doctor or therapist may recommend wearing it during physical activity or throughout the day as it doesn’t reduce normal motion but rather supports it.
A hinged knee sleeve can also be incredibly useful when returning to sport from an injury or surgery to aid and protect the movement and recovery of the knee joints and its ligaments. Hinged knee braces may be used to help create stability and protect the cartilage or LCL, MCL, ACL, or PCL ligaments of the knee. Often, athletes such as football players wear hinged knee braces and sleeves to prevent damage from contact or twists that may stress and injure the knee during play.
Sleeve style braces may not be the best choice for patients immediately after surgery due to the difficulty of pulling on over swelling, stitches, surgical wrappings and gauze. We often also do not recommend sleeves for elderly users as they can be quite difficult to pull on if limited motion or strength exists, even with the pull tabs included on the side of the brace.
Wraparound Knee Braces
Like sleeve style braces, a wraparound knee brace can also be used to provide support for the knee-joint and related structures. They are easily applied, so it’s perfect for those with reduced mobility such as the elderly or those with a recent injury or surgery who may have trouble applying a sleeve style brace. Wraparound braces usually open up and wrap around the knee to be applied. Velcro or straps allow the brace to be quickly adjusted, closed, and secured in place. These features allow adjustments to be made while wearing and the brace to be applied with care if knee swelling or wounds exist.
Wraparound braces are a great option for those needing a quick re-adjustment or removal once applied. These braces allow the brace to be removed without first removing footwear such as cleats or skates. A doctor or a physical therapist may also recommend this style brace for patients that are non-athletes and just need a brace for daily activities. Because of the Velcro application and the occasional tendency for this brace to shift slightly or come undone we usually do not recommend most wraparound braces for contact and competitive athletics.
Many wraparound braces include side metal hinges or spiral stays for added support to the knee ligaments and cartilage. Hinges may be free moving within a normal range of motion or may contain dials or adjustment screws that lock the hinges and restrict some or all of the knee’s motion. Most post-surgery brace options are wraparound braces with locking hinges that can restrict knee motion and allow healing. As the patient progresses with their rehabilitation adjustments are usually made to the hinge to allow more motion, while still providing support, protection, and stability to the recovering knee.
If you need a good knee brace in either a wraparound or sleeve style, DonJoy braces are an excellent choice and just one of the many quality brands we offer. Contact Hat Trick Sports to discuss our range of braces and what would suit you best.