Can I Treat Runner’s Knee With a Knee Brace?

I'm experiencing knee pain as I start to up my mileage. Can I put on a brace and keep running?

Caty Enders

As you increase your mileage, simple mistakes, like poor form or wearing the wrong shoes, can irritate joints and soft tissue and develop into an injury. If everything else feels good, it’s tempting to look for a quick fix for those twingeing knees, but it’s not the sort of thing you can improve with a Band-Aid.

To begin with, the generic term “runner’s knee” for pain due to overuse doesn’t convey a specific diagnosis. But according to Dr. John DiFiori, chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, two of the most common running injuries, patellofemoral pain and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, are both better treated without a brace. “A lot of people are under the misconception that braces are helpful in all varieties of knee injury, and that’s not necessarily true.”

Braces are just one of a set of tools used to treat knee injury. And as Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of Mayo Clinic’s sports medicine center, points out, they’re not the best of them. “The best brace we can give you is your own muscle brace,” Laskowski says. “The essential components of treating knee pain are strengthening and stability exercises.”

If you’re experiencing knee pain from overuse, something else is going on. If there’s lateral pain, your stabilizers in your ankle and hips may need strengthening in order to prevent the leg from torquing as you kick. Or, in the case of patellofemoral pain behind the kneecap, you might need to strengthen your quads and hamstrings and increase your flexibility.

Laskwoski says that, in the case of pain and swelling, he always prefers to start with PRICE: Protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation. “If you have swelling, compression from a knee sleeve or compression wrap can help. Swelling makes the joint stiff, which provides a feedback mechanism to the quadriceps, and can inhibit muscle action.”

And—you knew it was coming—it’s worth seeing someone. A sports medicine professional can assess your gait to make sure your mechanics are good and that you’re wearing the right shoe, both extremely important if you plan to be making tracks for a long time to come.