Time is elastic when you make a monumental mistake. Or, at least, it can feel that way.

It stretches seemingly endlessly, slowing down to an incremental flow of molasses lined with cleverly hidden razor blades. You know, just so you can feel every excruciating millisecond of whatever Serious Thing you’ve just done wrong. 

The fall that tore my left medial meniscus wasn’t particularly dramatic. In fact, it wasn’t even all that painful until after the fact, when I tried walking at a normal pace and suddenly had pain shooting up my thigh from my knee, and that I couldn’t identify the source of. Obviously, it came from what I’d thought wasn’t a very serious fall, even if I wasn’t quite sure how.

I’d never torn any meniscus before, so I had no reference for what I was feeling. I thought I’d just twisted my knee, or pulled a muscle. Something painful but relatively simple. And something I could rest-ice-compress-elevate my way out of. An annoyance, but not an emergency.

I also had a flight to catch, so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to elevate it for several hours. And I knew that I’d somehow have to walk my sore, stiff, swollen knee across two airports (one departing; one arriving). Sure, there were people-movers at both, but every step is agony when one of your knees isn’t working properly.

Ice and My Knee - BFFs

Never underestimate the power of a good icing.

Through the grace of ibuprofen (and my general ability to sleep well on planes), I somehow made it home OK. I elevated. I iced. I fell into an exhausted sleep on my couch just as soon as I was able to shower the plane funk down the drain.

I had work to do, so I got out my laptop and headphones and quickly dug a sonic groove to keep me on track. The ice on my knee turned to liquid, so I absentmindedly hobbled off to the kitchen to dump the water, refill the ice bag, and give my knee a break from the cold since I vaguely knew I shouldn’t keep it on for too long.

I kept treating it carefully for about a week, all in the hopes that it would improve enough to convince me that I didn’t need to see a doctor. Unfortunately, it didn’t improve. The pain was less bad, but the weakness and lack of stamina and stability weren’t improving.

It’s not even that I dislike any of my usual doctors, or have issues with getting myself medical care in a timely fashion. In this case, it was more that I was dreading what they might find. 

Whatever it was seemed likely to be more serious than I’d like, and would probably keep me off a bike for at least a little while (and maybe longer). Was it a bad sprain? A torn ACL? I hadn’t done either of those things before, just like I hadn’t previously torn a meniscus. 

There’s a first time for everything.

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The Bad News

After plenty of poking, prodding, and imaging, I got a definitive answer for what was causing my problems. I had a pretty significant bucket handle tear of the medial meniscus, and I had options. I could try to give it time to heal without surgery, or I could start thinking about surgery right away. 

While I’m not opposed to necessary surgery, it’s also not a thing that I’d purposely run toward (assuming that I could physically run, of course) as my first choice. My orthopedic doctor suggested that I try a cortisone shot and see if that offered enough anti-inflammatory relief to let me function pretty normally. 

He also suggested that I get myself a hinged knee brace to support my knee and give it the best chance at healing without further stress or damage. While his office frequently was able to provide knee braces like this to patients, they were having some supply issues, so his assistant suggested that I look online to find an appropriate one…

…And That’s How I Found Myself Ordering My First Motocross Knee Brace.

Leatt Knee Brace - Boxed and Unboxed

This Leatt X-Frame knee brace has more than earned its keep with what I've put it through.

A thing you may or may not be aware of is that some MX knee braces are also certified as medical devices. Not many, I think, but the Leatt X-Frame definitely is certified that way, both in the US and in Europe. It’s not cheap, with an MSRP of $289.99 in the US. But good non-moto-specific hinged knee braces that feel like they offer substantial support and build quality aren’t cheap, either. 

Did I also do a clever bit of Moto-Math and figure that I’d actually be saving myself money if I could just wear this Leatt brace all the time and only have to buy one knee brace to be functional in all activities? I mean, obviously. Wouldn’t you? Maybe you wouldn’t, but maybe you’ll think differently if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

For comparison, there are a wide range of hinged knee braces that are sold purely as medical devices. Like a lot of things, you can find the super-cheap version on Amazon or Temu or Wish, or you can find a number of pricier versions depending on how much support and breathability you want. The cheapest ones (under $100, usually) seem to mostly be glorified neoprene sleeves that look neither particularly supportive nor comfortable to wear for long periods of time because they’re not very breathable.

On the upper end of the hinged medical device knee brace range, we have things like the Donjoy Bionic FullStop brace. With an MSRP of $269.99 (but on sale for $219.99 at the time of writing), it’s made specifically for active individuals that want to protect and support ACL, meniscus, and patella (kneecap) injuries and joint instability. While it certainly looks like it will do a fine job at many things, it’s not meant to protect you in a motorcycle crash.

How Well It Worked And How Long I Wore It

Leatt Knee Brace - 3/4 View and Head On View

These are stock images of the Leatt X-Frame, but this is pretty much what it looks like in real life, with optimized lighting.

The Leatt X-Frame comes with a special sock to wear underneath. For those unfamiliar, this is important to protect your skin from chafing, since the brace uses substantial Velcro bands to hold it in place, and it’s bound to slide around even if it’s correctly tightened when you initially put it on. The partial sock goes around your leg and knee, and then folds over both the top and bottom of the brace to help keep it in place.

I did as the instructions stated and wore that sock at first, but soon realized that for my plan to work, I was going to need something else. A quick search found me some MX brace socks (the ones that are basically moto thigh-highs, complete with an actual sock portion for your foot) that were on clearance. I snapped up a couple of pairs, figuring I’d have plenty to wear and wash as needed.

The whole system I’d built is protective, and it’s pretty comfortable if you wear it with MX brace socks. However, it’s also quite bulky. 

If you’re going to do what I did for what ended up being several months (not my plan, but that’s just how it worked out), you’re going to have to make a choice. Either you're going to need to wear leggings with the brace outside all the time—and run the risk of inviting uncomfortable conversations and/or glances when you’re out and about. Or else you’re going to need to wear baggy-enough pants to fit over the brace, thus rendering it less of a potential conversation-starter. (Editor’s note: Unless you decide to wear JNCOs in the year of our lord 2024.)

Also, if you plan to fly with it in the US, you should be aware that the TSA does have rules in place that say support braces are allowed. However, since there’s also that line that says “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint,” and I like to provoke as little drama as possible going through Security, I opted to just take the brace off and strap it to my carry on to go through the scanners. 

2024 Royal Enfield Shotgun 650 - First Ride - Riding 38

Et voila, I was able to ride thanks to the knee brace that you might not even notice in this photo if I didn't point it out to you.

This particular brace has metal at the hinges, so I was reasonably certain that it would require additional scrutiny if I’d left it on my knee instead. You may, of course, feel differently if you’re not able to hobble through the body scanner without your own exoskeletonal brace. Since I was, I did.

Between getting the brace and my next doctor’s appointment, the cortisone shot didn’t really do much, and my doctor wasn’t terribly surprised when I told him so. However, since cortisone shots can temporarily compromise your immune system, he also couldn’t schedule my surgery right away. So, I ended up having more time living with the knee brace than I’d initially anticipated. 

How much more time? I ended up wearing the brace on a daily basis for about four and a half to five months straight. I’d say I got my money’s worth, too, because it absolutely made me far more functional for everyday stuff like grocery runs than I would have been without it. 

I’m hoping to never have to do that again, of course, but I think I made a solid choice. It might not be the right choice for everyone, but it also might be worth considering for some riders. I was even able to ride a couple of bikes thanks to that brace (though nothing that required extremely bent knees, because the tear was literally locking my knee and not letting it bend all the way). 

How It Ended

I’m currently recovering much more quickly from surgery than my doctor and physical therapy team expected, given the severity of the injury. When the doctor went in and scoped what the thing actually looked like (not just images from the outside), it resembled…feathers. I know this because he took photos to document the process, and then showed me later.

I’m no doctor, but when I asked my actual doctor about it, he confirmed that my suspicions were correct. Your cartilage should never be shredded in such a way that the word ‘feathers’ is seen as an apt description.

In any case, that Leatt MX brace, which was once a part of my daily routine for so long, is now cleaned up and stored safely in its box. I plan to break it out again after I’m fully recovered—this time, for its actual intended purpose as I work to better my skills in the dirt later this year. I’ll probably even get it a friend for my non-injured knee in the hopes that I avoid further knee injuries to either of my legs down the line. 

As for how that will go, well—stay tuned. You’ll more than likely hear more about it from me as the 2024 riding season progresses.

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