The knee connects the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone), with the patella (kneecap) and the fibula (second bone within the lower leg) also forming part of the joint of which there are 4 ligaments connecting the bones. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue connecting bones within a joint and are responsible for stability. The four ligaments within the knee are the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL), Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) and Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL).
The ACL is located at the front of the knee and is the most prominent ligament in that it prevents the leg moving forward beyond its normal range of motion and offers stability when walking, running and jumping. The PCL is located at the back of the knee and connects the femur and tibia, with impact to the front of the knee sometimes leading to PCL damage. The MCL and LCL are located either side of the knee and prevent sideways movement.
Any damage to the knee can seriously impact mobility affecting your ability to walk, let alone carry on with extreme sports, of which 40% of ACL injuries are attributed to and is the most common.
Choosing a knee brace based on injury grading
There are 3 different grades of ligament damage which dictate the recovery time and the knee brace which should be used as part of your recovery.
A grade 1 is described as a mild ligament tear and will typically heal following a few weeks of rest. Inflammation and pain may be experienced therefore the best course of action is rest, with ice and compression to help manage the inflammation and pain and keep you mobile for longer. Compression can be achieved through a compressive sleeve
A grade 2 is slightly more serious in that of a moderate ligament tear which can affect stability as well as resulting in inflammation, an injury leading to a longer spell on the sidelines. Here, a ligament knee brace should be considered which can offer both compression as well as stability, with the strapping acting as external ligaments.
A grade 3 is the most serious and will typically result in surgery to either repair or replace the ruptured ligament, using a graft from the groin or hamstring. This can affect overall stability and will normally see you out of action for up to a year following surgery and rehabilitation including stretching and strengthening exercises. Surgery can be avoided however by remaining acl deficient and building strength in the quads to counteract the instability. Following a grade 3 you should consider wearing an acl knee brace to offer stability and protect against further damage in the future.
Choosing a knee brace based on sport
The product you choose should not only bit suitable to manage your injury but also the sport you wish to undertake. For grade 1 and 2 injuries a soft knee brace will do the trick for the majority of sports such as running, football etc. It is worth noting that a hinged knee brace is not allowed to be worn on the football pitch under FA rules but a sleeve can be.
Where you are looking at extreme sports such as skiing and snowboarding then many extreme sports stars and enthusiasts opt to wear a rigid knee brace, manufactured from materials like carbon fibre which are super strong and lightweight. This style of brace is designed to withstand impact and can be worn both prophylactically (to prevent injury) as well as post injury to minimise the risk of a reoccurrence.
Which knee brace should I choose?
Diagnosis is essential in the first instance, therefore if you are unsure as to severity of your ligament injury then you should speak with a medical professional who will also be able to advise of the type of knee brace you should be considering based on your injury and your intended activities.