How to Buy Ankle and Knee Braces

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Preventing knee and ankle injuries is simple--never leave your armchair. For most of us, that's not an option, nor is it good for our health. But you can stay active and protect yourself with a few precautions. Modern braces provide an impressive amount of lightweight support.

  • Determine what type of brace you need. The following can be purchased at sporting goods stores, orthopedic supply houses and drugstores.

  • Knee braces provide lateral support while allowing full flexion and extension. They also protect against hyperextension, which is a common cause of major knee ligament injuries. Those with a hole for the kneecap can supply some pain relief. Hinged neoprene braces ($100 to $300) with extension stops offer compression and are best for protecting previously injured knees. Knee straps ($20 and up) relieve pain and pressure caused by an irritated kneecap by helping the kneecap track correctly.

  • The best types of braces for stabilizing the ankle provide good lateral support. Most sports ankle injuries occur when the ankle is rolled inward. Lace-up ankle supports slip on like a sock with laces to provide rigid side-to-side support while allowing freedom of motion. The Aircast brace is a rigid, plastic ankle brace with air-filled bladders that can be adjusted to provide varying degrees of support. The sport version (under $50) has a figure- 8-type elastic that wraps around the ankle and is designed to fit into sports shoes and provide excellent support and free range of motion.

  • Get a custom-built brace. Usually requiring a referral from an orthopedist, these braces are given to postoperative or injured patients. Using a plaster mold of your knee or ankle, a rigid brace is constructed allowing the maximum safe range of motion while preventing unwanted lateral movement. It is covered by some health-insurance plans and must be fitted by a physician.

Tips & Warnings

  • By itself, a brace is a secondbest solution. The best idea is to strengthen the problem area through appropriate exercises, which in the long run may eliminate the need for a brace entirely.
  • Be sure to see your doctor about any injuries.
  • Verify that your sport allows participants to wear braces. Some sports do not allow certain kinds of braces.

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