Knee Stabilizer VS Knee Brace | Their Differences, Types, and How To Choose What’s Best

Patient's knee with knee stabilizer

The world of knee braces can be very confusing. So, let’s start with the basics: what’s the difference between a knee stabilizer vs knee brace? Which one do YOU need?

Well, knee stabilizers and knee braces are the same thing. For one, knee “braces” wouldn’t be braces if they don’t stabilize your knee. So, both terms are interchangeable.

That said, there are several types of knee braces. Each of them can help your knee in different ways. The right one for you will depend on your individual needs and goals.

Below, you’ll find the different types of knee braces, what they’re used for, and how you can choose the right knee brace.

Types of knee braces

Hinged knee brace

This type of knee brace has rigid braces on one or both sides of the knee. This design provides more support than other types of braces, like knee sleeves or straps.

Hinged knee braces can be useful in many circumstances. That’s why they have their own classification (1):

Rehabilitative knee braces

Your joint is vulnerable in the healing process. This is particularly true post-surgery and after a serious injury. Rehabilitative braces protect the knee from further injury during this period. (1)

They are bulky and have straps to help secure the brace around the knee. These straps are longer than other hinged knee braces to give room for the dressing.

They may have a wraparound knee sleeve as well. It will provide knee compression to help you manage pain and swelling.

Also, some models have a dial on the side that restricts your knee’s range of motion. This is necessary to protect the ligaments after surgery.

Functional braces

This type of hinged knee brace lets you bend and straighten your knee. But, limiting lateral movements. It keeps the knee stable when you bear weight on your leg, like when you walk or run.

Functional braces are helpful for people with a mild or moderate sprain. The brace can provide support to the knee to let the ligaments heal.

You may need one if you have an unstable knee from a ligament injury, or while recovering from a meniscus tear.

Prophylactic knee braces

In stabilizers, prophylactic braces help prevent injuries.

This makes them popular in contact sports like football. Tackles can make athletes prone to a medial collateral ligament sprain, for example. Wearing this brace may help prevent or reduce the severity of this injury. (1)

Also, research shows that off-the-shelf prophylactic braces can provide 20 to 30% extra ligament protection. This makes them a cheap and effective choice to protect your knee while playing sports.

Unloader knee braces

This type of knee brace pulls or pushes the joint to one side to relieve pressure. This, in turn, reduces knee pain and promotes healing.

This design makes unloader braces the best knee braces for uni-compartment knee osteoarthritis. Also, for certain meniscus injuries. (2)

But, these braces don’t add stability to your joint. So, they’re not suitable for ligament sprains and instability. (2)

That said, most unloaders are custom-made to maximize effectiveness. This makes this brace very expensive. Although, there are also ready-made options that might work for some people.

Knee sleeves

Knee sleeves provide knee compression. Hence, why they’re also called “compression sleeves”“.

This, in turn, increases the blood flow to the area, promoting healing. It can reduce swelling and decrease pain as a result.

A knee sleeve can give a sense of stability without compromising knee movement. This makes them a popular option for people with arthritis or mild knee pain.

Closed patella braces are the typical compression sleeve. But there are other designs that offer more benefits.

For example, an open patella knee sleeve has a hole for the kneecap. This reduces the pressure on the front of the knee and can provide pain relief in that area. It also helps with proper alignment of the patella.

Other knee sleeves have removable hinges for more support.

Knee sleeves are a great option for people:

  • With mild to moderate joint pain and/or swelling.
  • That want injury prevention without the bulkiness of hinged braces.
  • That want moderate support without compromising knee mobility.
  • That have patella tracking issues.

Knee straps

A strap wraps around the knee joint, below the kneecap. It works by putting compression on the patellar tendon. This external pressure can reduce symptoms in the kneecap area. It can also help prevent patella injuries in some people. (3)

Some straps are dual. Meaning, they have a second strap that goes above the kneecap. This extra strap applies the same pressure on the quadriceps tendon. It can also be helpful for people with patella tracking problems.

Moreover, dual straps can help in a similar fashion to open knee sleeves. But, without the compression.

How to choose the right knee brace?

First, remember that knee braces are supplemental to rehab and recovery. They won’t replace therapy, strength training, or proper technique.

With that in mind, the right knee brace for you will be the one that fulfills your individualized needs.

And, your needs will depend mostly on your type of injury.

Get a knee sleeve if…

You have a fresh injury without issues with stability.

These injuries swell up fast and can also be painful. Knee sleeves can help with both symptoms.

Get a hinged brace if…

You need help keeping your knee joint stable. For example, if you have ligament injuries.

Hinged braces add support and protection that will also help your ligaments heal.

Get a prophylactic brace if…

You play contact sports and want to prevent any nasty injuries.

On the other hand…

Get a rehabilitative braces if…

You’re already injured or recently had surgery.

Rehabilitative braces are great at facilitating recovery. They can also help you regain your range of motion in a safe but timely manner.

Get knee straps if…

You’re an athlete whose sport involves a lot of running and jumping. Or, if you need help relieving pain around the your patella (e.g. patellar tendonitis).

The downside is that straps don’t stabilize the knee. So, they’re not the best option for people with knee sprains.

Now, choosing a brace may seem like an easy task, but it can get complicated very quick. Getting professional medical advice first helps speed the process along.

That said, a physical therapist can recommend the right knee brace for your current needs. We can help you get in touch with a qualified therapist in your area!

FAQs:

Does wearing a knee brace weaken the knee joint?

No, if it’s the right size. Also, if you’re following the recommendations of your therapist.

A knee brace is meant to be worn during certain circumstances. Like playing sports or walking after a knee surgery, for example.

If you need to wear it for longer periods of time to control pain, talk to your therapist to check what’s going on.

What is a knee stabilizer use for?

Knee stabilizers, also known as knee braces, offer support to the knee joint. This added support may help prevent knee injury or recover from it.

Some braces can provide compression as well, which can reduce swelling. This is useful for people with arthritis, for example.

Can a knee brace help with knee pain?

Yes, if it’s the right size. It can increase pain if it’s uncomfortably tight.

Conclusion: knee stabilizer vs knee support

A knee stabilizer is synonymous with knee support and knee brace. There are several types:

  • A hinged brace provides the most support. It’s best for recovering after surgery. It can also prevent ligament issues during sports.
  • A knee sleeve can promote healing and decrease swelling through compression. Most are closed patella sleeves. An open patella compression sleeve can help your kneecap symptoms.
  • Straps can help you manage pain while remaining fully active in your athletic activities.

The right brace for you will fit your needs. Pay attention to the size before buying to avoid losing circulation down the leg.

Finally, a knee sleeve or brace is a fraction of the whole treatment. Combine it with therapy to strengthen your knee joint, so it can support itself!

Resources

  1. Paluska, S A, and D B McKeag. “Knee braces: current evidence and clinical recommendations for their use.” American family physician vol. 61,2 (2000): 411-8, 423-4
  2. Kalra, Mayank et al. “The effect of unloader knee braces on medial meniscal strain.” Prosthetics and orthotics international vol. 43,2 (2019): 132-139. doi:10.1177/0309364618798173
  3. De Vries, A et al. “Effect of patellar strap and sports tape on pain in patellar tendinopathy: A randomized controlled trial.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports vol. 26,10 (2016): 1217-24. doi:10.1111/sms.12556 (https://sci-hub.se/10.1111/sms.12556)