The 10 Best Knee Braces
10. O2 Cold Therapy
9. Shock Doctor 875 Ultra
8. Rehband 7051
7. Nordic Lifting Sleeves
6. Bio Skin Gladiator
5. Bauerfeind GenuTrain
4. Futuro Comfort Lift
3. Winzone Support Sleeve
2. McDavid 401
1. UFlex Athletics Compression Sleeve
The Vulnerable, Venerable Knee
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to defend yourself physically against a much larger opponent, there are a few incredibly vulnerable places for you to attack before they get the better of you with sheer size. In a lot of self-defense training methods, you'll quickly learn to identify and attack these targets, which include the knees.
Knees are so susceptible to injury primarily because of their complexity. It's that very complexity, of course, that makes them such a useful aspect of our anatomy, allowing us to jump significant heights, to pivot, juke, dodge, duck, crawl, and even to use them as weapons themselves. But in order for a single joint to have that much strength and flexibility, it has to contain a handful of ligaments.
The majority of knee injuries occur when one or more of the four larger ligaments of the knee joint tears. If you've seen it happen to someone, you know how gruesome it is. If it's happened to you, you know how painful it is. Other injuries can include the sensitive alignment of your kneecap and its ligaments, as well as avulsion fractures to the bottom of your femur or the tops of your shin bones. A lot of the time, a significant injury to your knee will require surgery for a proper healing process.
Whether or not you need surgery, immobilizing and compressing your knee as much as possible is often the most effective, and always the most prudent, initial treatment. For this, we turn to a good quality knee brace, as they are each intended to provide stability and compression to an injured area. That compression will help prevent a buildup of fluids, the removal of which often results in a surgery of its own.
Immobilization is vital for the prevention of further injury. Those four primary knee ligaments, the ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL all work together to provide stability. When one or more is injured, it's very easy for you to unintentionally flex your knee in a direction that it isn't designed to flex, further damaging already torn tissue. By reducing the articulation of the knee from without, you protect yourself against such additional injury.
Selecting a brace for any injury will depend heavily on the severity of the injury at hand, or at knee, as it were. Your doctor may well have a specific recommendation for you, and far be it for us to fly in the face of modern medicine and all its achievements. It is worth remembering, however cynically, that a lot of doctors have relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers as well as sports medicine companies, and that their recommendation might be affected by this relationship.
So, it falls to you to do a little bit of critical thinking when comparing the knee braces on our list with each other, as well as with anything you may have had suggested to you. We think you'll find our recommendations in line with those of top doctors, if not exceeding them.
The first thing to contend with is the degree to which you need to stabilize your knee. For minor hyper-extensions, which usually only result in the smallest tears to a single ligament, the simpler knee braces on our list would suffice. As the complexity and severity of your injury increases, so too should the apparent complexity of your brace increase.
For the most severe injuries, look for a knee brace with a number of straps above and below the knee cap, as these will be the most effective in providing stability and inhibiting movement. The straps also allow you to adjust the tightness of the brace for maximum comfort.
On a comfort note, it's also worth investigating whether you have any physical aversion to certain medical materials. Most of the braces on our list are made from hypoallergenic materials like treated cotton or neoprene, but that doesn't mean you won't find one material more comfortable for your skin than another.
The Xanadu Papyrus
It doesn't deal with knees specifically, but the oldest medical text to describe the immobilization of a joint with some kind of brace dates back to roughly 1600 BCE. The ancient Egyptian discovery is named for the man who found it, an explorer and anthropologist named Edwin Smith.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is widely believed to have been a scholarly exercise cut off before its midpoint. In all likelihood, a medical scholar sat copying the information from a known medical text for study purposes when, like Coleridge composing Kubla Kahn, something called him away from his task. As such, his descriptions of various injuries and their recommended treatments, beginning with injuries to the head and working downward, cut off at around mid-torso.
In the intervening years, we've learned a thing or two about human anatomy and physiology, owing in no small part to individuals willing to dissect dead bodies in the name of medical science, often against the will of their governments. In more recent years, MRI technology and computer imaging, as well as 3-D printing, have allowed manufacturers to research and create medical and athletic braces like the ones on our list, which represent the pinnacle of our anatomical understanding.