When you have a meniscus tear, the right knee brace can mean the difference between staying in the game and sitting on the sidelines. These five best knee braces for a torn meniscus are available over-the-counter, plus will provide support and pain relief to keep you on your feet.
What is a Meniscus Tear?
Think of your menisci as rubbery protective cushions in your knees. There are two menisci, the medial and lateral, on either side of your kneecap. These spongy pads of fibrocartilage keep the tibia (shin bone), patella (knee cap), and femur (thigh bone) from rubbing against one another. They also help to:
- Absorb shock
- Even out the load on your knee joint
- Distribute lubricating fluid around the knee
Your meniscus can wear down over time. Or it can be damaged by an accidental twist, jerk, or impact. When this happens, the meniscus cartilage can tear.
Symptoms of a torn meniscus can be subtle or as blaring as a neon sign. In mild cases, you may not even be aware that you have an injured meniscus. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of full range of motion
- The feeling of your knee “giving way”
- Catching or locking in the knee joint
Often, inflammation and stiffness do not occur until a day or two after you have sustained a knee injury. Pain from a torn meniscus is localized at the site of the injury, commonly on one side of the knee. The pain is often worse when you twist or squat down.
Most people can still walk and enjoy regular activities with a torn meniscus. However, they may experience pain during exercise and athletic activities.
In some cases, a torn meniscus is characterized by a locked knee. If your knee locks, you won’t be able to straighten or bend the knee fully.
Common Causes of Meniscus Tears
Meniscus tears are often caused by sudden movements or traumatic impacts. Sports that involve a lot of starting, stopping, and quick pivots hold the highest risk. This includes volleyball, basketball, football, and tennis.
You don’t have to be an athlete to suffer a knee injury. Any activity- like hiking, dancing, walking downstairs, or stepping out of your car- can result in an injury.
The risk of a meniscus tear is three times higher for overweight people. A degenerative meniscal tear can also occur as a person ages. This is most common in people over 40 and results from the collagen fibers in the meniscus wearing down.
How to Treat a Meniscus Tear
Your doctor will determine treatment options for a torn meniscus depending on the injury’s size, type, and location, and your age, and activity level. In most cases, the tried-and-true RICE method is effective:
- Rest. You may have to stop athletic activity for a while and avoid putting weight on the affected leg.
- Ice. For cold therapy, apply a cold pack to the knee several times a day for 20 minutes at a time.
- Compression. A knee brace, compression sleeve, or wrap can be worn to reduce pain and inflammation and support the knee as it heals.
- Elevation. When you have a chance to rest, prop the injured knee up higher than your heart. This will reduce swelling.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin can be taken to manage knee pain and swelling. With proper treatment, symptoms from meniscus tears usually improve over four to six weeks. As the pain and inflammation subside, you can gradually resume normal activities.
Preventative Measures You Can Take
The best approach to injury prevention is to perform exercises that strengthen your leg muscles, especially your quadriceps and hamstrings. Making sure that the knee joint has ample stability protects it from meniscus tears.
Additionally, you may opt to wear knee protection or a supportive brace during sports or physical activity. Remember to use proper form when you work out, lift weights, or play a sport.
Exercises that Strengthen Muscles in Your Thighs and Legs
You can practice strength training every day to keep your legs toned and limber. My recommended physical therapy exercises for knee pain and hip pain can be incorporated into any fitness routine. These will help to strengthen the muscles in your thighs and legs:
- Quad extensions
- Back lunges
- Donkey kicks
- Lateral pendulum
- Lateral leg raises
- Calf Raises
- Straight leg raises
Warming Up, Cooling Down, and Stretching
Warming up and stretching before a workout is best to prevent injury to muscles, cartilage, and ligaments. It increases blood flow to your muscles, making them more flexible and less likely to tear.
Just as beneficial as warming up, cooling down can help your body to recover more quickly. It can also reduce muscle soreness after a workout.
Resting Between Exercise
Pushing yourself too hard is an invitation for a meniscus injury. Resting gives your tissue time to rebuild, making it stronger and less likely to become damaged from overuse.
Rest between sets and between workouts. It takes 48 to 72 hours for muscle fibers to repair themselves after a workout.
Well-Fitting, Supportive Shoes
Whether it’s knee injuries, plantar fasciitis, or back pain, well-fitting supportive shoes can be a game-changer. For sports and performing everyday activities, they will keep your feet protected, body supported, and allow for easier motion.
Make sure that your shoes fit securely and are laced up properly. Choose the appropriate footwear for the specific activity or sport you are engaged in.
Easing Into Increasing Workout Intensity
Increasing your workout intensity can help offset boredom, burn more fat, build muscle, and improve rehabilitation. However, it’s critical to ease gradually into a higher workout level. This will give your body time to adjust to the increasing intensity.
Knee Support During Exercise
Wearing a knee brace will relieve pain and provide support so that you can power through your workout. It can also prevent you from further injury.
Many athletes prefer to wear knee sleeves when working out or playing because they can assist performance. The compression increases blood flow, which enhances responsiveness, stability, and control.
Knee Braces Vs. Knee Sleeves for Meniscus Tears
The different types of knee support that you choose will depend on the severity of your injury. If the meniscus tear is minor, a simple knee sleeve that offers compression may be enough to provide extra support and reduce strain.
For a severe tear, unloader braces with supports on both sides may be the better choice to displace weight and stabilize the entire knee joint. These are good for people who are working on regaining strength or mobility in the injured leg.
Below are my top knee brace choices for managing meniscus tears through the recovery process and beyond. Click on the affiliate links to check them out on Amazon.
What To Look For in Knee Braces
No matter what type of knee brace you get, there are a few key factors that you should consider.
An elastic pressure belt and velcro straps let you get the right fit for pain relief and compression to promote healing. Having adjustable stability and tightness is crucial when shopping for knee braces for meniscus tears and arthritis to give you a custom fit.
A wraparound brace is ideal for post-injury support and recovery, including ACL and MCL injuries. It will provide lateral support while preventing further cartilage damage to the injured side.
Athletes should consider knee braces with neoprene. Breathable neoprene material will wick moisture away. Plus, an open patella design makes it more comfortable when you are exercising or moving around for long periods.
Hinged unloader braces are ideal for contact sports where you want to ensure the greatest amount of protection. Though this hinged knee brace is bulky, it’s also adjustable for comfort. Its latex-free materials are designed to let air flow through to reduce odor, moisture, and bacteria when you sweat.
A hinged knee brace provides ample support with less bulk. When you have a severe meniscus tear or arthritis pain, you need as much support as you can get. Look for a stabilizing hinged brace with flexible side stabilizers and bilateral dual hinges. The real bonus of this kind of brace is that it still allows for a full range of movement.
Hinged knee braces are great for a torn medial meniscus or lateral meniscus because you can remove the bilateral hinges to adjust support. It’s also ideal for post-surgery recovery and pain management.
Velcro closures and adjustable straps make this heavy-duty knee brace easy to take on and off. It’s a prime choice for anyone who doesn’t have time to fiddle with a complicated knee brace.
If you’re looking for a basketball knee brace for meniscus tears, you’ll want maximum support along with full mobility. Your knees will benefit from the added stability while twisting, pivoting, and jumping.
For people in larger bodies, it can be difficult to find the right size knee brace. Look for knee braces labeled Plus Size that are designed in XL sizing. These provide the ultimate support for those with larger thighs, calves, or knee circumference. Look for a brace made from lightweight neoprene fabric, so it won’t feel bulky or restricting.
A good plus-size knee brace should have side stabilizers and adjustable hook-and-loop straps, providing more stability than a compression sleeve. It will reduce pressure on the patella for less knee pain and less damage down the road. It’s easy to put on and comfortable enough for daily wear.
4 Best Knee Braces for Meniscus Tears
What To Look for In Knee Sleeves
When you’re using a knee sleeve, look for ones with a cushioning patella gel pad and metal spring stabilizers on both sides. This adds extra stability without the bulkiness of a standard knee brace.
A closed patella brace can be worn after surgery for a sprain or strain, arthritis pain, or a meniscus tear to control inflammation and swelling.
If you’re looking for a knee sleeve for pain management and protection during sports, look for a non-slip silicone knee sleeve. It’ll be breathable and lightweight. These are ideal as a tennis knee brace for torn meniscus with arthritis pain because they promote blood circulation and comfortable mobility when running, jumping, or bending.
Low-profile compression sleeves are an excellent choice for people who need support but don’t like the restrictive feel of a traditional knee brace. It doesn’t have side stabilizers, but it does provide compression for extra support and pain relief.
A compression sleeve should apply stable pressure across the knee and promote warmth and circulation to aid healing. Look for comfortable, breathable fabric and non-slip silicone strips that allow you to perform daily activities without feeling held back.