Brace Yourself: Deciding Which Medical Device Is Best for You

I think if we took a formal poll of runners and asked, “What is your biggest fear in training?”, the overwhelming majority of answers would be “getting injured.” While the occasional injury might occur with consistent running, the best way to shorten the amount of time you’re injured is to address any issues quickly and effectively.

When an injured runner/walker has decided to look into a medical device of some sort (or their doctor has recommended it)it can be tough to know what item to look for. No injury treats every runner the same, and no runner responds to any single treatment the same way. We're here to sort through the options, which will hopefully make the process easier.

Two of the most prevalent medical device brands that we carry at CRC are Pro-Tec and Zamst, so let’s take a look at a couple of products from each company that are aimed at solving the same problem. First, the SS-1 from Zamst and the Shin Compression Wrap from Pro-Tec.

The Pro-Tec wrap (pictured left, above) is a one-size-fits-all (OSFA) item, and the Zamst product (pictured right) comes in various sizes that are determined by measuring the circumference of the runner’s leg about five inches above the ankle bone. The three inter-locking straps on the SS-1 provide more customized compression for the user when compared to the Pro-Tec wrap. The compression pad in the SS-1 is also more dense than that of the Pro-Tec wrap, thus providing more support at the site of the pain. Finally, the SS-1 is left-leg/right-leg specific, so the compression pad is positioned more closely to a person’s specific anatomy.

Next, let’s discuss the options for dealing with one of the most dreaded injuries runners and walkers encounter: IT band syndrome.

The Pro-Tec IT Band Compression Wrap (pictured left, above) uses the traditional approach of placing a strap just above the knee. The strap is then tightened so that the IT band can be “lifted” off the nearby bundle of nerves at the outside of the knee, which is where the pain of ITB syndrome typically manifests itself. A small, square compression pad is applied directly on the IT band, just above the site of the pain.

The Zamst RK-1 (pictured right, above) takes a different approach. The purpose of the RK-1 is to limit inward rotation of the knee through a combination of wraps and compression pads. Again, the RK-1 is left- and right-leg specific and comes in various sizes for a more customized fit.  

Not everything Zamst makes is left-right specific. Zamst makes a more typical knee brace, the EK-3, that provides MCL and LCL support and compression. Similarly, the 3D Flat Series from Pro-Tec makes a knee sleeve that provides multi-directional support. The flat-knit stitching in the 3D Flat series (Pro-Tec makes an ankle sleeve in the same manner) allows for greater range of motion and a very comfortable fit.

Selecting the Brand You Need

So how do you decide what brand/device you need? The first thing to do is generally diagnose the problem. We’re often not sure exactly what ails us, so we toil on the internet and ask our physical therapist friends and we don’t get any definitive answers because, more often than not, those answers aren’t possible without some serious medical intervention. Short of getting an X-ray or MRI, our best guess is probably just fine to start with.

Once we know (for the most part) what we’re dealing with, it’s time to choose a brand. Both companies make effective, easy-to-use products that deliver relief to your painful spots. In a side-by-side comparison, Pro-Tec is slightly less ergonomically specific and a little more “one size fits all” than their Zamst counterparts. Zamst offers a little more support and customization in their products, which comes with a higher price tag. Both have 30-day return policies in-store. So, where does that leave us?

My best advice is to gauge your personal feelings on the severity of the injury, your frustrations with your recovery, and the length of time you have suffered with the injury. The more severe the pain, the more frustrated you are with the injury, or the longer it has been nagging you, the more I would encourage you to look at a Zamst product.

Conversely, maybe you’re at the end of a training cycle and you suddenly have some pain on the medial (inside) of your knee cap. The pain is annoying and you don’t want to run with it, but your big race is in a couple of weeks. Maybe then you look at the Pro-Tec knee sleeve. A small change that won’t throw a huge wrench in your plans, but might relieve some pain for you.

Treating injury issues can be complicated. (If it weren’t, we’d all be doctors and PTs!) But, like many things in run specialty, stopping into the store and picking the brains of our staff can be an effective first step. Injuries and the process of diagnosing them can be scary. We’re here to make sure the remedy isn’t.

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Mike Ward is CRC's accessories buyer and manager of the Westerville store. He is a cat enthusiast and plays guitar for the Wet Bandits, your favorite '90s cover band.