Lateral vs. Medial Unloader Knee Brace

One of the most common complaints doctors and physiotherapists encounter is issues around knee pain. The causes of knee pain vary widely and include age, sports-related incidents, wear and tear, and traumatic injuries. However, knee pain can also develop due to medical conditions such as infections, arthritis, or gout.

Depending on the cause and the severity of your knee pain, wearing a stabilizing knee brace can relieve pain and help you move freely. To realize the maximum benefits of wearing a knee brace, you must find the one that suits you best.  This article will take a closer look at the differences between lateral and medial unloader knee braces and which one to choose.

Knee Pain is Becoming More Common

Did you know that nearly one in four adults in the United States is suffering from some form of knee pain? Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that nearly 60 million Americans have received an arthritis diagnosis from their doctor. Women are affected more frequently than men. Those who live an active lifestyle tend to stave off arthritis for longer, although they may face a greater risk of knee pain due to injury if not careful.

Here is another interesting statistic. Scientists have discovered that knee pain frequency has doubled since the beginning of WWII. This number holds up even if we consider longer lifespans and changing lifestyles, which predisposes Americans to an unhealthier way of life.

Choosing the Right Knee Brace

Our knees are the largest joints in our body. They’re also the most complex and are involved in many of our daily movements. Anyone with a knee injury knows that even small movements can lead to noticeable pain.

Whether you are using a knee brace to prevent injury or need to choose one that helps alleviate pain, selecting the most effective brace for your injury is crucial. Different knee braces will work better for different types of injury and pain. Selecting the most effective tool for you is the key to benefitting as much as possible.

Lateral vs. Medial Unloader Knee Brace

One of the major decisions you will have to make is selecting a lateral or a medial unloader knee brace. To understand the difference, we will take a closer look at the anatomy of your knee and how each brace supports it. The main difference between lateral and medial unloader knee braces lies in which ligament they support. A lateral unloader knee brace supports the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). This ligament runs outside your knee, connecting the femur, or thigh bone, with the fibula, or calf bone. The LCL helps you resist impact from the inner surface of the knee. It is also responsible for preventing your knee from collapsing outward.

Conversely, a medial unloading brace supports your medial collateral ligament (MCL). This band runs inside your knee and connects your thigh bone with the tibia or shin bone. Its primary function is preventing your knee from collapsing inwards. Both ligaments control any sideways motion you take with your knees and stop or prevent unusual movements that could hurt your joints.


Functions of Lateral Unloader Knee Braces

Lateral unloader knee braces are also known as lateral stabilizer knee braces or lateral patella stabilizer braces. Their name hints at some of its most relevant functions. Lateral unloader knee braces take the brunt of the impacts of everyday activities and sports, such as running, off the outside of your knee. Most are reinforced on the outside to support the lateral compartment of the joint and prevent unwanted movement.

A majority of these braces also support your patella or kneecap. They prevent potential dislocation due to ligament weakness and prevent improper movement tracking. A simple way to think of their function is to imagine a gentle correction tool that helps your knees work optimally.

Functions of Medial Unloader Knee Braces

Medial knee braces are also known as medial compartment knee braces. They support the medial compartment on the inside of your knee joint. These braces improve knee movement by preventing even partial joint collapse toward the inside and promoting healthier movement. Suppose you are recovering from an illness or injury. In that case, medial knee braces can alleviate pain by supporting this part of your joint. They reduce some of the mechanical stresses your knee would otherwise suffer. As a result, they can also prevent further injury.

Which Knee Brace is Right For You?

Choosing the optimal knee brace for you can feel overwhelming because there are so many options. If you are unsure, consider getting professional advice from your doctor or physiotherapist. In most cases, selecting the right knee brace is about finding a balance between stability and support on one side and flexibility and movement on the other. For example, hinged braces add more stability and support. However, they may limit your activity more than entirely flexible knee braces do.

That being said, they will almost certainly be more efficient at unloading weight or impact, and this can be crucial when recovering from an injury or preventing further ones. When choosing between a lateral or medial unloader knee brace,
ask yourself whether your knees only need support in one compartment. Uni-compartmental unloader braces will either support the LCL or the MCL. In contrast, multi-compartmental braces can reinforce the function of multiple knee compartments at the same time.

Final Thoughts

Both lateral and medial unloader braces are helpful when you are recovering from injury or healing from a medical condition. They can relieve pain and support your knee joint while leaving room for movement. Multi-compartmental knee braces combine the benefits of both.

No matter which knee brace you choose, opting for a high-quality model will deliver better knee results and help you get back on your feet faster. Our MCL unloader knee brace, the Ascender, was developed with all these criteria in mind. We are proud to offer one of the best unloader knee braces on the market, with a lightweight, custom, and breathable build that supports you.

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Most braces are covered by insurance and the average cost is under $200!

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