Knee Bracing: What Works?


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What are knee braces?

Knee braces are supports that you wear for a painful or injured knee. Some people use them to prevent knee injuries during sports. Braces are made from combinations of metal, foam, plastic, elastic material and straps. They come in many sizes, colors and designs.

What kinds of knee braces are there? What do they do?

There are four main kinds of knee braces:

  • Prophylactic (say: “pro-fa-lack-tick”) braces. These are designed to protect knees from injuries during contact sports like football.
  • Functional braces. These give support to knees that have already been injured.
  • Rehabilitative braces. These limit harmful knee movement while a knee is healing after an injury or surgery.
  • Unloader/offloader braces. These are designed to provide relief to people who have arthritis in their knees.

Do knee braces work?

Maybe. Companies that make knee braces claim that their products work well. Scientific studies have not completely agreed. It's not clear what the knee braces actually do. Braces often work better in the laboratory than they do in normal use.

In general, functional braces, rehabilitative braces and unloader braces are the most effective. Braces help some people more than others. Some people are afraid that knee braces may actually increase the number of knee injuries in athletes. In general, most people who wear knee braces feel that they help. Doctors are trying to learn more about how well knee braces really work and when it's best to use them. Remember, the need for a brace should be determined by your doctor.

When are knee braces used?

Different knee problems require different knee braces. Your doctor may suggest one kind of knee brace after knee surgery. Some doctors may choose another kind of knee brace for support instead of surgery for a torn knee ligament. You may also need a knee brace for pain in the front of your knee that isn't getting better with strengthening and flexibility exercises. Braces don't seem to work well to stop knee injuries from happening. Get your doctor's advice if you want to try a knee brace.

How do I get a knee brace?

There are many ways to get a knee brace. Pharmacies or medical supply stores often carry simple knee sleeves or supports. Some people order knee braces directly from manufacturers or on the Internet. Your doctor is a good resource and may know about many different knee brace companies. Your doctor can help you choose a brace and get the correct size.

Some knee braces cost hundreds of dollars. Sometimes medical insurance companies cover them. Remember, the most expensive brace isn't always the best one.

How do I use a knee brace?

During sports, knee braces should be used as directed by your doctor. Take care when putting the brace on to make sure that the hinges are where the knee bends. Straps, tapes or hook-and-loop tapes should be fastened around your leg. You should check the placement of the brace during activities to make sure that it hasn't moved. Poorly positioned braces can hurt rather than help you.

To work well, a knee brace should be worn during all activities that put you at risk of injury to your knee. Don't forget to warm up properly before beginning any athletic activity.

How do I care for my knee brace?

Knee braces often get damaged during normal use. You should inspect your brace often for wear and tear. Regular cleaning with soap and water is good for the brace fabric. Exposed metal should be covered to protect others from injury. A worn-out brace should be replaced for maximum benefit. More durable materials may cost more, but the brace might last longer.

Should I keep doing leg exercises once I have a knee brace?

Knee braces are the least important part of preventing knee injuries or getting better after an injury. Even with a knee brace on, you could still injure your knee. Stretching, strengthening and technique improvement are much more important.

You should make changes in intensity or training schedules little by little, to limit knee stress. Good strength and flexibility are important for holding down knee pain and injuries. You should work out an exercise plan with your doctor to get the best program for you. Don't let a knee brace become a "crutch."

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 12/10
Created: 09/00

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