The Different Knee Braces for Pain and How to Know When You Need One (2024)

A knee brace is a support that can be worn to reduce knee pain, prevent injuries, and help you recover after an injury. Different types of knee braces are made a variety of materials and offer a range of knee joint support levels.

The right knee brace for your knee pain will depend on your condition. Your healthcare provider will recommend the type of brace that is right for you, and when you should wear a knee brace. While knee braces can be beneficial, sometimes using one can actually cause more harm than good.

This article discusses the different types of knee braces and what they are used for. It also details the do's and don'ts of wearing a knee brace for knee pain.

The Different Knee Braces for Pain and How to Know When You Need One (1)

Types of Knee Braces

The structures in your knee can become damaged or dislocated in an accident or due to a fall, and a knee brace might be needed as you heal. Your healthy knee joint can also be injured due to an intense blow during athletic activities. The knee may also be susceptible to an injury due to an underlying condition.

The different types of knee braces differ based on their function and level of support. Certain ones protect the knee to prevent damage, others support the knee to control pain. Some braces stabilize the knee if it's prone to injury, and some immobilize the knee to optimize healing after an injury.

In general, a knee brace should be selected based on the situation. The device should help manage and distribute the pressure around your knee.

Your knee joint includes bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. This joint has a considerable range of motion and carries a lot of weight. A knee brace is structured to reduce motion in a way that protects your knee in a way that matches your needs at a given time.


A prophylactic knee brace, like a knee pad, is used to protect your knee if you are going to be in a situation with a high risk of having a knee injury, like in a contact sport where your knee is likely to be hit. These knee braces can be used even if you don't have any problem with your knee but want to take steps to protect it.

Prophylactic knee braces generally have padding, especially on the patellar bone, to shield your knee from damage due to direct impact.


A knee unloader brace is typically used for controlling pain due to inflammatory conditions like tendonitis, knee osteoarthritis, patellofemoral or iliotibial band stress syndrome, and chondromalacia patellae (CMP). This type of brace helps shift the pressure and weight on your knee joint to reduce pain.

There are several types of unloader braces, such as:

  • A patellar motion control brace with a J-pad in the front to gently lift the patella can be used if you have patellar tendonitis.
  • Iliotibial band stress syndrome causes pain on the side of your knee and might be relieved with a smallbandaround the lower part of the knee joint. The band helps compress the iliotibial band where it inserts into your shin, decreasing the mechanical forces acting upon it.

Unloader knee braces are for comfort. They don't protect the knee from a direct impact or from overstretching. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist as you decide which type of unloader brace is most suited for your condition.


A functional brace is used to stabilize the knee joint. In doing so, this brace can help prevent a knee injury if you are at high risk due to a structural issue in or around your knee, like weak ligaments or a tendency for knee dislocation.

There are different types of functional braces, and the best one for you depends on your knee problem and your anticipated activity.

Motion control brace: If you have sprained or overstretched the ligaments on the side of your knee, your healthcare provider may recommend a motion control brace. This is a neoprene sleeve with metal supports on the inside and outside that help support the ligaments. It's often used for activities that require pivoting, stopping/starting, or repetitive bending of the knee.

Patella control brace: If you've had a dislocated patella, patellofemoral stress syndrome, knee arthritis, or CMP, a patella control brace can be used to reduce motion of the bone. This type of brace is a neoprene sleeve worn over the knee. It has a cutout that exposes and holds the patella in place during activities like walking, running or squatting.


After knee surgery like ameniscus repairor ananterior cruciate ligament(ACL) repair, a knee brace may help immobilize the joint so it can heal properly. A Bledsoe brace or a knee immobilizer may be worn initially. After healing, a functional brace can be worn during athletic activity.

Bledsoe brace: A Bledsoe brace has straps that wrap around the thigh and shin and metal support brackets on the inside and outside of the knee joint. A small mechanism can lock the knee into full extension, where it stays for the initial period after surgery.

As healing progresses and more movement can be safely tolerated, the locking mechanism can be unlocked to allow the knee to bend a specified amount.

Knee immobilizer: A knee immobilizer is a long cloth brace that runs the length of the shin and thigh. It has metal support struts on the inside and outside parts of the brace; self-fastening straps hold the knee immobilized in place. The benefit of an immobilizer as compared to a plaster cast is that it can be removed to allow gentle motion during healing.

Consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before making any changes to the settings on your Bledsoe brace. Likewise, be sure to speak with one of these professionals before removing your knee immobilizer.

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Tips for Using a Knee Brace

Consistency can be an issue when it comes to getting the most out of your knee brace, and about 25% of people who wear one for a medical purpose report minor complications or problems with using their brace.

Reasons some people end up stopping wearing their knee brace include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Poor fit
  • Lack of relief
  • Discomfort when wearing it

The following can help you avoid these concerns.

Choose Wisely

Wearing the right brace and getting a good fit is key to ensuring you get the benefits from your brace that you seek and that the brace is as comfortable (and effective) as possible.

Your healthcare provider and/or physical therapist will guide you as to what type of support you need and how you should use it. They can also check the fit of your brace and determine if adjustments or a different size are needed.

Know What to Expect

Knowing what your knee brace is supposed to do for you can help you assess its effectiveness and help you use it the right way. Different knee braces may look similar, but the function doesn't always correspond to appearance. Talk with your healthcare provider or physical therapist and make sure you have an understanding of the purpose of your knee brace.

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When to Wear a Knee Brace

Wearing your brace when it is most likely to help, not just when you think you need it, can also help. You may need to wear your brace all day or just for certain activities. Wearing it too much or not enough can cause problems.

For example, wearing your brace for unnecessarily long stretches of time can cause skin abrasion. And letting it limit your activity for months on end if you don't have to can result in muscle atrophy (shrinking) or joint stiffness.

On the other hand, taking your brace off before your knee joint is ready can impair healing. And neglecting to wear it when you are susceptible to an injury means that you could end up with knee damage. Talk to your healthcare provider or therapist about whether you should wear your brace while:

  • Sleeping
  • Sitting
  • Driving
  • Walking
  • Stretching

When to Wear a Knee Brace


A knee brace isn't the right choice for everyone. Some medical conditions can make you susceptible to having adverse effects from wearing a knee brace. And in some cases, knee braces aren't effective at all.

If you have severe pain in your legs or diminished sensation, such as due to peripheral neuropathy, a knee brace might not be right for you. That's because you might not be able to sense a small cut or pressure from the brace, and a wound can worsen without you realizing it.

Vascular insufficiency may also make wearing a knee brace problematic. You might have diminished blood flow while wearing your knee brace, which could lead to long-term vascular issues.

You also need to be cautious if you have bone deformities or congenital bone malformations. The shape and structure of a knee brace may be standardized in a way that leads to joint damage if your knee joint is atypical in its structure.

A Word From Verywell

Knee braces can provide relief from discomfort and protect your knee from injuries in many different circ*mstances. It's important that you use your brace correctly and that you stay in touch with your healthcare provider or physical therapist about your changing needs so you can get the maximum benefit from wearing your brace.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • For how long should you wear a knee brace?

    It depends on the individual and the condition the brace is used for. Most people only need to wear the brace when doing certain activities or during a flare-up of pain or joint instability. Typically you won't need to wear the brace to sleep.

  • Should I wear a knee brace if my knee is swollen?

    If your knee is swollen, you may want to try a compression brace or a compression sleeve under your knee brace. If you are prone to swollen knees, talk to your doctor about the best approach for bracing your swollen knee.

  • What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee sleeve?

    A knee brace and knee sleeve are both used to support the knee joint. A knee brace is used to help with joint stability and provides more support than a sleeve. Knee sleeves typically provide compression, which helps with swelling.

The Different Knee Braces for Pain and How to Know When You Need One (2024)


How do I know what kind of knee brace I need? ›

Rigid frame, soft-hinged and compression sleeves are the three most common knee brace styles used to treat a broad range of knee issues. In general, 'rigid' style braces are designed for moderate to severe conditions, and less rigid (such as soft elastic braces) are designed for more mild conditions.

Do I need a medial or lateral knee brace? ›

The right knee brace for a ligament injury depends on what ligament is damaged, and how extensive the damage is. If the injury is to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) or lateral collateral ligament (LCL) then a medial-lateral hinged brace may provide all the support that you need.

What are the 5 different types of knee braces listed in your book and what are they used for? ›

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,5 knee braces fit into several categories: (1) prophylactic—braces intended to prevent or reduce the severity of knee injuries in contact sports; (2) functional—braces designed to provide stability for unstable knees; and (3) rehabilitative—braces designed to ...

What are the 4 types of knee braces? ›

Knee braces fall into four general categories, these including Prophylactic, Functional, Rehabilitative, and Unloader/Offloader knee braces.

How do I choose a knee brace for arthritis? ›

The type of brace that will work best for you depends on where your arthritis is located in your knee, how bad your arthritis is, and what your particular issues are. Compression sleeves, for example, might work to treat swelling; unloader braces work to shift the load from one part of the knee to another.

When should you not wear a knee brace? ›

Typically, a complex knee brace is worn for the first year. After that, a brace usually isn't needed for low-level activities. Keep in mind it can take up to two years to return to baseline stability. Once you're returned to full function, you can stop wearing a brace.

Is it OK to wear a knee brace all day? ›

If the specialist gives you the okay, you can wear your brace all day. But be sure to follow the directions of your knee pain specialist because the improper use of a knee brace can worsen your pain and cause further damage to your knee. Knee braces that immobilize your knee can weaken it.

What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee support? ›

Generally, Knee supports are best as a preventative and protective brace for those doing physical activity. They may be slightly tighter than the knee braces and may have better moisture-wicking properties. Knee braces are best for people who have had a knee injury in the past or are currently dealing with one.

What is the difference between a lateral and medial knee brace? ›

The LCL helps you resist impact from the inner surface of the knee. It is also responsible for preventing your knee from collapsing outward. Conversely, a medial unloading brace supports your medial collateral ligament (MCL). This band runs inside your knee and connects your thigh bone with the tibia or shin bone.

How do you know if you need a lateral release knee? ›

Candidates for knee lateral release surgery

Patients who experience pain and pressure from tightening in the lateral retinaculum tissue on the outside of the kneecap may be candidates for a lateral release surgery.

What is the difference between a knee brace and a stabilizer? ›

However, unlike patella stabilizers, which are primarily designed to more gently align the patella, full knee braces are more robust and able to provide protection against patella dislocations and ligament injuries. They often feature additional straps or hinges that control knee movement.

How do I choose a brace? ›

Choosing the right dental braces is a lot like choosing the perfect pair of shoes. You need to consider comfort, style, functionality, and, of course, price. The right type for you will depend on several factors: Your Budget: If you're mindful of the braces price, traditional metal braces may be the way to go.

Can a brace make knee pain worse? ›

To answer the question in simple terms – it depends. Wearing a cheap, poorly designed generic knee brace for a prolonged period may increase the risk of pain, worsen damage to the knee and possibly lead to the weakening of the joint.

What is the difference between knee brace and knee guard? ›

Knee supports tend to be discrete and can comfortably be worn under clothes. Knee braces on the other hand tend to be more mechanical in nature. They help stabilise the knee joint and protect the knee from any more injuries. There are a wide range of knee braces, all catering to different conditions that you may have.

What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee guard? ›

While knee braces provide compression targeted at supporting specific parts of the knee (like the patella or the sides), knee sleeves give an even compression throughout the knee. As for warmth, sleeves usually excel due to their continuous coverage and heat-retentive materials like neoprene.

What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee stabilizer? ›

The stabilizers offer a slightly more advanced support, while the hinged braces confer the most advanced support due to their ability to more or less mimic the natural movement of the knee.


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