Knee braces may be worn to provide knee stability, prevent injury and protect the knee while healing from an injury or surgery. But are they really effective?
There are studies that suggest wearing a knee brace can help reduce knee pain and instability. However, there are also studies suggesting there are no clinical benefits to wearing knee supports. In order to assess the effectiveness of a knee brace, it’s important to consider the type of knee support in question. There are five general categories of knee braces: Prophylactic braces, functional braces, rehabilitative braces, unloader braces and knee sleeves.
Prophylactic Braces: Designed to protect the knee from damage that can occur during contact sports. There are studies that suggest prophylactic braces can help relieve MCL strain and knee stiffness as well as protect against reinjury after a previous MCL injury.
Functional Braces: Used after a knee injury to support the knee while it heals. Functional braces are designed to reduce knee instability and may also reduce the risk of injuring other parts of the knee. There are specific functional knee braces to be worn after MCL, ACL, PCL, LCL or combination injuries. Each brace works to apply forces to support the affected ligament. When worn as part of a knee rehabilitation program, functional braces can benefit people recovering from knee injuries or knee surgery.
Rehabilitative Braces: Designed to limit movement of the knee while it is healing after an injury or surgery. Rehabilitative braces can protect injured ligaments, including the ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL or meniscus. They are typically worn for two to eight weeks while using crutches and allow space for swelling and movement in a controlled range of motion.
Unloader Braces: Typically prescribed for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. These braces are designed to take some of the stress off the knee joint when you walk. They can help people with arthritis stay active and may help delay knee surgery in the short term.
Knee Sleeves: Although they aren’t technically a knee brace, knee sleeves are made of material such as neoprene and are a common type of knee support worn by the average athlete and casual exerciser such as joggers, walkers and tennis players. Knee sleeves provide compression around the knee joint and may provide some added knee stability. They are thought to function by helping aid the body’s sense of where the knee is positioned in space, which could, in theory, improve balance.
The effectiveness of a knee brace may vary from one person to the next and depends largely on the type of brace being worn and the reason for its use. Knee braces are less expensive and less invasive than knee surgery, so wearing a knee support may be worth a try before resorting to surgery.
If you are experiencing knee pain, talk to your doctor to determine the cause of the pain and the best course of treatment. Ask your doctor if wearing a knee brace may help you.