How To Choose The Best Knee Brace For Running

How To Choose The Best Knee Brace For Running

Knee pain is a familiar foe to most avid runners. In fact, about 40 percent of running injuries are knee injuries and 13 percent of runners have experienced knee pain in the past year, according to a survey by Runner’s World. In this post, we take a look at four of the most common knee injuries from running and how to choose the best knee brace for running after suffering each of these injuries. Together with strategies like physiotherapy and active recovery, the correct knee brace can help runners overcome their injuries and return to the starting line.

Knees are one of the most critical elements in maintaining an active lifestyle. However, the joint takes on a special importance to runners. A strong set of knees is essential to handle the ups and downs of trail running, kick your body into high gear to achieve a personal best or to simply guard the body against the stresses of mile after mile of routine training runs.

Runner’s Knee

What It Is

Runner’s Knee, or as it’s technically called patellofemoral pain syndrome, is the irritation of the cartilage on the underside of the patella (kneecap). It typically flares up during or after long runs, after extended periods of sitting or while descending hills and stairs. Anyone with biomechanical factors that put extra pressure on the knee is vulnerable to this injury. Risk factors include overpronation and weak quads, hips, or glutes.

What To Do About It

The first measure to take is to strengthen weak hip and glute muscles. Taking crouched lateral side steps using a resistance band works perfectly to achieve this goal. Icing your knee after a run also provides relief in the early stages of this injury while heat works best once the injury is healing. Athletic tape can be used on the knee to reduce pain and help correct improper tracking of the kneecap. Shortening your stride length and landing with the knee slightly bent will help to reduce stress on the joint. To aid in supporting your knee, reducing pain, supporting weak areas and training your body to shorten its stride, invest in a knee brace designed for running. The best knee brace for running after incurring this injury is one that helps maintain proper patella tracking as this will reduce the likelihood of recurrence of the injury.

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Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

What It Is

The iliotibial (IT) band lies along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee. When you run, the IT band can rub on the side of the femur, causing irritation if you increase your mileage too quickly, especially with lots of track work or downhill running. Iliotibial Band Syndrome makes up 12 percent of all running injuries. Runners who develop ITBS may overpronate, have a leg-length discrepancy or suffer from weak hip abductor and gluteal muscles.

What To Do About It

Much like Runner’s Knee, it’s important to strengthen the hip abductors with lateral side steps, side leg lifts and one-legged squats. Use a foam roller before and after you run by rolling the outside of your thigh from the knee to the hip. Swap out hiking and cycling for swimming, and elliptical training. If you run on a track, change directions every few laps and limit runs on hilly routes. IT band issues often get better if you can learn to shorten your stride so that your weight centers on the front of the heel or the midfoot as you land. The best knee brace for running while afflicted with ITBS is one that will apply compression precisely to the injured area in order to reduce pain and accelerate healing.

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Meniscus and Cartilage Injuries

What It Is

Meniscus and knee cartilage injuries are not exclusive to runners. There has, however, been a recent uptick in the number of runners experiencing these injuries. Most meniscus and cartilage tears are the results of a slip, fall, sudden twist or age-related degenerative tearing. The meniscus sits between the femur and tibia and serves as a shock absorber. Damage from a meniscus tear compromises the ability of the knee to handle the impact of running. Pain and joint swelling along the joint line on one side of the knee are the hallmarks of a meniscus tear.

What To Do About It

For smaller degenerative tears or injuries to the meniscus and cartilage, a conservative set of treatments can help runners recover successfully. By combining rest from running with a comprehensive cross-training program, a runner can build strength in the supporting muscles around the knee, meniscus and cartilage until the pain and swelling have subsided. For more severe injuries or tears, a runner may require a heavier physiotherapy routine to strengthen the knee, develop correct range of motion and repair damage. The best knee brace for running after suffering a meniscus tear is usually one with a hinge and providing mild to moderate medial and lateral support and compression to fully surround the meniscus and protect it. An offloader brace can be the best knee brace for meniscus injuries that require surgery to repair the most severe damage.

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Patellar Tendinopathy/Tendinitis

What It Is

The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the lower leg bone.  Patellar tendinopathy can be differentiated from kneecap pain as the pain is directly on the tendon or its connection to the bone, while kneecap pain is usually located around or underneath the kneecap. Patellar tendon pain is commonly experienced as an overuse injury but is also often related to an abrupt change in training. Research reports also cite forefoot running (running with too much weight on the forefoot) as a major factor in the development of patellar tendinopathy. In other words, a barefoot/minimalist style of running may be a risk factor for developing patellar tendon pain.

What To Do About It

Runners recovering from patellar tendon injuries should focus on strengthening exercises, particularly of the quads. A partial rest from running should also factor into a recovery plan, but be aware that complete rest may actually make the problem worse. Overtraining – running too many miles, too fast, too soon – is a major risk factor for patellar tendon injuries. When recovering from patellar tendon injuries, make sure to increase your running volume and intensity gradually; never more than 10 percent over the previous week or month. The best knee brace for running while afflicted with this condition will extend up the leg to protect the quads and the other structures supporting the knee. It will also offer compression to help reduce pain and inflammation associated with patellar tendon injuries.

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