You are a runner. You warm-up, set the pace, lengthen your stride, build endurance, and attack your sprints. You train hard, and you always plan to beat your best next time. Until that sinking moment you experience pain or injury that leaves your training in jeopardy; in this case, it may be time to consider the best knee support for running.
Though a great exercise for our physical health and even our state of mind, running is an intensive, high-impact activity that can be grueling on the knees. Responsible for our movement and stability, our knees are a vital weight-bearing joint that support up to five times our body weight when we run. It is unsurprising, therefore, that knee pain/injury is one of the most common complaints that all runners, from beginners to pros, are likely to experience from time to time.
Whether the result of an acute injury or deterioration over time, irritation or damage to the ligaments and cartilage of the joint can lead to inflammation, soreness, and susceptibility to future injury. This can result in a critical loss of confidence and motivation that could stop us in our tracks for good.
The most common knee injury is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PPS), or “runner’s knee”. Though generally considered an endurance-related injury, it can be of biomechanical origin too, such as the result of poor form, too much too soon, difficult running terrain, and inappropriate footwear.
Other common knee running injuries include:
- iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS)
- patellar tendinitis
- knee sprains
- ACL and MCL tears
- knee osteoarthritis
- meniscus damage.
Though the best knee support for running should not be considered a cure for these conditions, a knee support will help to (a) alleviate symptoms by reducing inflammation through compression, and (b) reduce the risk of further injury, or exacerbate an existing one, by stabilizing the joint.
When considering the best knee support for running, it is important to understand your specific condition as there is a wide range of knee support options available, all designed to function in different ways. The main types include braces, straps, and tape.
The Best Knee Support for Running – Braces
The most common of the knee support devices, a brace is a compressive sleeve designed to reduce swelling, encourage blood flow, and stabilize the joint. The type of brace for you will depend on the condition and level of support required.
Basic compressive sleeves function as described above, and are suitable for lesser injuries. Where a moderate level of support is required, such as injuries related to ligament damage, braces with straps provide added support to the joint. For more severe injuries, such as ACL/MCL tears and degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis, hinged braces provide superior support.
Other types include braces with a hole at the knee, which are designed to support the knee cap, most suitable for conditions such as patellar hypermobility as well as post-surgical recovery.
For added pain relief, neoprene braces, constructed out of insulating fabric, provide heat to the affected area, which is particularly beneficial for bruising.
The Best Knee Support for Running – Straps
A strap is a narrow band that can be secured above or below the knee depending on the ailment, such as runner’s knee or ITBS. For those with ITBS, a strap used above the knee will reduce stress, while below the knee, a strap will distribute the load on the patellar tendon.
The Best Knee Support for Running – Tape
For those with a lesser degree of injury, such as mild runner’s knee, tape is a low maintenance device popular with runners. Formally known as kinesio tape, or K tape, it is an elastic material with enduring adhesive qualities designed to enhance performance of the muscles and joints, reduce inflammation, and provide support without sacrificing mobility. How to apply K tape depends on the condition and may require some expertise.
A common pain in the ‘knee’ for runners, soreness, and injury can stand in the way of our goals. While supportive devices are not a cure, or even frontrunners when compared to the primary recommended treatments of rest, ice/heat, stretching, and moderate exercise, the best knee support for running gives us back our freedom of movement and something else vital for our recovery: our peace of mind.
For a selection of the best knee braces available for purchase through 2018, please check out this review.