The Best Knee Brace for Meniscus Tears

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Meniscus tears are a common knee injury among people of all ages. Without proper treatment, they can continue to cause pain and keep you from doing the activities you love. A knee brace can be an important part of an effective treatment plan. This article compares various bracing options to help you choose the best knee brace for meniscus tears.

Ask your doctor’s advice before starting a treatment plan or selecting a knee brace. If you need a quick refresher on the anatomy of meniscus tears, click here.

What You Need to Know to Find the Best Knee Brace for Meniscus Tears

There are a few things you should be aware of that may help you on your search for the best knee brace for meniscus tears.

Understanding Your Knee Condition

Meniscus tears usually cause pain and swelling in the knee joint and a loss of mobility. The same movements and forces that cause acute meniscus tears can also damage other structures in the knee. Degenerative meniscus tears are correlated with other knee problems such as osteoarthritis. It’s vital to know if there may be additional issues with your knee to take appropriate action. Consult your doctor for a definitive diagnosis of your knee condition. They can also advise you on a treatment plan and recommend knee bracing if necessary.

Understanding Treatment Options

Your treatment strategy will depend on the nature of your meniscus tear and how you injured it. Your doctor may recommend different treatment options that may or may not include surgery based on your situation.

Surgical Treatment

Depending on the location and severity, a meniscus tear may require surgery to repair. More severe meniscus tears may require surgery to remove the damaged section. In extreme cases, the entire meniscus can be removed. The problem is that surgical removal of the meniscus can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis later in life [6].

Non-surgical Treatment

A non-surgical treatment approach to meniscus tears could include a combination of knee bracing, anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, and muscle strengthening. Evidence shows that this treatment approach can help with the initial treatment of acute tears [1, 7]. Some research suggests that non-surgical treatment is preferred for managing degenerative meniscus tears [1] and should be recommended as an initial treatment course before considering surgery [8]. If conservative methods are not successful and symptoms persist, then surgery may be required.

Treatment for Meniscus Tears and Osteoarthritis

As mentioned above, there is a correlation between degenerative meniscus tears and knee osteoarthritis. There are many different treatment options and ways to manage osteoarthritis without surgery. Ask your doctor for advice on the best course of action.

How can a knee brace help?

In general, knee braces decrease compressive forces on the knee by unloading and supporting the joint. This helps relieve pain and improve mobility to enhance recovery. Wearing a brace can help limit the stress placed on your meniscus while it heals and protect you from re-injury. As a result, you can be more physically active throughout your recovery and get back to doing what you love sooner.

After meniscus tear surgery, a knee brace can be worn to limit knee flexion and rotation, protecting the meniscus while allowing weight-bearing and movement [9]. Additionally, braces can support the knee while doing physical therapy exercises later on in rehabilitation. [9].

Knee bracing can also be useful as part of a non-surgical approach for less severe acute tears and as an ongoing treatment for degenerative meniscus tears, especially in the presence of osteoarthritis [1, 7]. Keep in mind that wearing a knee brace is only one part of a potential non-surgical treatment strategy. Still, it can likely help to manage your pain while being physically active, with less risk of re-injury.

Your doctor will be able to tell you whether knee bracing is an appropriate treatment option based on their assessment of your knee. They also may be able to help guide you when choosing the best knee brace for meniscus tears.

Types of Knee Braces for Meniscus Tears

Using an unloader knee brace for meniscus tears can be effective, depending on your situation. Commonly used to manage knee osteoarthritis, research shows that unloader knee braces reduce meniscal strain as long as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is intact [10]. Unloader braces may be appropriate as an initial treatment for acute meniscus injuries, as an ongoing treatment option for degenerative tears, or in the latter stages of a post-surgery recovery plan. There are 2 types of unloader knee braces.

Uni-compartment Unloader Knee Braces

Most unloader knee braces are uni-compartment unloaders, meaning that they can only unload one knee compartment. Uni-compartment unloader braces often pull or push the knee joint more to one side or the other. This reduces pressure on either the right or left side of the knee. If one meniscus is torn, shifting pressure towards the healthy meniscus on the other side of the knee may reduce pain and limit strain on the injured side.

How a uni-compartment unloader knee brace works.

Some of the best uni-compartment unloaders on the market include the Ossur Unloader One, the Orthomen Unloader, the Breg Solus One, and the Donjoy Defiance.

Tri-compartment Unloader Knee Braces

Tri-compartment unloader knee braces are a recent innovation in bracing technology. They can simultaneously unload all three knee compartments. Unlike uni-compartment unloaders that push or pull the knee, a tri-compartment unloader uses a spring hinge system to decompress the entire knee joint as it bends. This can reduce joint contact forces in all three knee compartments by over 40% (11). The spring loaded hinge acts like a shock absorber, making it ideal for protecting the cartilage in a torn meniscus from joint contact forces associated with weight-bearing and knee bending. This helps to reduce pain and improve mobility. The spring also assists with knee extension, which is useful when strengthening the quadricep muscles during meniscus tear rehabilitation.

How a tri-compartment unloader knee brace works.

Currently, the only tri-compartment unloader on the market is Spring Loaded Technology’s Levitation knee brace.

Choosing the Best Knee Brace for Meniscus Tears

If you’ve read this far, your doctor has probably recommended you try wearing a knee brace as part of your treatment plan for your meniscus injury. If not, it’s best to consult a doctor or other healthcare professional before selecting a brace. With so many bracing options out there, it can be difficult to know which brace to choose for your situation.

As shown above, unloader knee braces can reduce the load placed on the meniscus. As a result, they can be useful as part of a non-surgical treatment plan or post-surgery recovery plan [1, 7, 10]. However, not all unloader braces are made equal. The table below compares some key features of unloaders that are among the best knee braces for meniscus tears, so you can make an informed decision.

Comparison to help find the best knee brace for meniscus tears.

If you would like to see more detailed comparisons of unloader knee braces, check out the links below.

Top 5 Unloader Knee Braces

The Breg Knee Brace vs. Levitation

The Ossur Knee Brace vs. Levitation

The Donjoy Knee Brace vs. Levitation

When is a Uni-compartment Unloader the Best Knee Brace for Meniscus Tears?

Suppose only one meniscus is torn, and your knees are otherwise healthy. In that case, a uni-compartment unloader may be a good option for you. However, a major limitation is that uni-compartment unloaders can only shift pressure away from one knee compartment to another. This can increase the stress and load on other compartments.

When is Levitation the Best Knee Brace for Meniscus Tears?

Uni-compartment offloaders may not be effective if both of your menisci are torn. They also may not be useful if you have degenerative meniscus tears and osteoarthritis in multiple compartments of the knee – which is the case in over half of osteoarthritis patients [12]. In these cases, the best knee brace for meniscus tears will be one that unloads all three compartments of the knee at once. This will reduce the risk of further cartilage damage throughout the knee joint. The only knee brace with this capability is a tri-compartment unloader like Spring Loaded’s Levitation knee brace.

Spring Loaded Technology's Levitation knee brace - the best knee brace for meniscus tears.

Levitation is the world’s first tri-compartment unloader. It’s one of the best knee braces for meniscus tears on the market, and it’s the only brace designed to reduce forces in all three compartments of the knee. It does this by:

Protection

Equipped with a patented bionic hinge, Levitation absorbs pressure and assists with leg extension. As a result, Levitation can protect the meniscus from the forces exerted by bodyweight and the quadriceps.

Prevention of Pain

By decompressing the entire knee joint simultaneously, Levitation can significantly reduce strain on the meniscus, reducing pain and improving mobility as you recover.

Added Power

With its bionic spring hinge, Levitation absorbs energy when you bend your knee and returns that energy as you straighten your leg. The amount of energy returned by the spring is adjustable. As your meniscus tear heals and you start to regain strength and stability in your knee, you can decrease the assistance as needed.

Levitation can be a great choice to include in a treatment plan for acute meniscus tears and degenerative meniscus tears, especially in the presence of knee osteoarthritis. If you want to learn more about how Levitation works, watch the video below. The animation illustrates how liquid spring hinge technology can help you do more of what you love.

References

  1. Doral, Mahmut Nedim, Onur Bilge, Gazi Huri, Egemen Turhan, and René Verdonk. 2018. “Modern Treatment of Meniscal Tears.” EFORT Open Reviews 3 (5): 260–68.
  2. Tsujii, Akira, Norimasa Nakamura, and Shuji Horibe. 2017. “Age-Related Changes in the Knee Meniscus.” The Knee 24 (6): 1262–70.
  3. Englund, Martin, Ali Guermazi, and L. Stefan Lohmander. 2009. “The Meniscus in Knee Osteoarthritis.” Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America 35 (3): 579–90. 
  4. Goebel, L., J. Reinhard, and H. Madry. 2017. “[Meniscal lesion. A pre-osteoarthritic condition of the knee joint]” Der Orthopäde 46 (10): 822–30.
  5. Jarraya, Mohamed, Frank W. Roemer, Martin Englund, Michel D. Crema, Heather I. Gale, Daichi Hayashi, Jeffrey N. Katz, and Ali Guermazi. 2017. “Meniscus Morphology: Does Tear Type Matter? A Narrative Review with Focus on Relevance for Osteoarthritis Research.” Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism 46 (5): 552–61.
  6. Englund, M., Roos, E. M., & Lohmander, L. S. (2003). Impact of type of meniscal tear on radiographic and symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: A sixteen‐year followup of meniscectomy with matched controls. Arthritis & Rheumatism: Official Journal of the American College of Rheumatology, 48(8), 2178-2187.
  7. Mordecai, Simon C. 2014. “Treatment of Meniscal Tears: An Evidence Based Approach.” World Journal of Orthopedics 5 (3): 233.
  8. Rimington, Todd, Krishna Mallik, Douglas Evans, Kenneth Mroczek, and Bruce Reider. 2009. “A Prospective Study of the Nonoperative Treatment of Degenerative Meniscus Tears.” Orthopedics 32 (8): 558–64.
  9. Sherman, Seth L., Zachary J. DiPaolo, Taylor E. Ray, Barbie M. Sachs, and Lasun O. Oladeji. 2020. “Meniscus Injuries: A Review of Rehabilitation and Return to Play.” Clinics in Sports Medicine 39 (1): 165–83.
  10. Kalra, Mayank, Ryan Bakker, Sebastian S Tomescu, Anna M Polak, Micah Nicholls, and Naveen Chandrashekar. 2018. “The Effect of Unloader Knee Braces on Medial Meniscal Strain.” Prosthetics and Orthotics International 43 (2): 132–39.
  11. McGibbon, C. & Mohamed, A. Knee Load Reduction From an Energy Storing Mechanical Brace. Canadian Society for Biomechanics (2018).
  12. Duncan RC1, Hay EM, Saklatvala J, Croft PR., Prevalence of radiographic osteoarthritis–it all depends on your point of view., National Center for Biotechnology Information, Rheumatology (Oxford). 2006 Jun;45(6):757-60.
  13. N.E.Lankhorst, J.Damen, E.H.Oei, J.A.N.Verhaar, M.Kloppenburg‖, S.M.A.Bierma-Zeinstra, M.van Middelkoop, Incidence, prevalence, natural course and prognosis of patellofemoral osteoarthritis: the Cohort Hip and Cohort Knee study, Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, Volume 25, Issue 5, May 2017, Pages 647-653.

The Anatomy of a Meniscus Tear

Think of the meniscus as your knee’s shock absorber. Each knee has two menisci, one on the medial side (inside) and one on the lateral side (outside), that sit between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone). The menisci are tough, rubbery, wedge-shaped cartilage pieces that cushion, stabilize, and lubricate the knee joint. 

Knee anatomy including the meniscus.

Acute Meniscus Tear

Acute meniscus tears are usually caused by a sudden twisting motion of the knee. These types of meniscus injuries are common among athletes but can happen to anyone during recreational activities. Meniscus tears can occur in various shapes, locations, and sizes, as pictured below.

Degenerative Meniscus Tear

As meniscus cartilage wears thin with age, the risk of a meniscus tear increases. Degenerative meniscus tears are commonly seen in older people with years of wear and tear on their knees. These types of meniscus tears often lead to the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis [1, 2, 3, 4] or occur as a result of osteoarthritis through breakdown and weakening of the meniscal structure (shown below) [3, 5].

Diagram of degenerative meniscus tears and knee osteoarthritis in the same knee.