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When are knee braces helpful?

Will wearing a knee brace help prevent injury? Knee braces have become a common treatment option for millions of Americans, young and old, who suffer from knee pain. They are inexpensive, easy to find and comfortable to wear. But when are these contraptions really helpful?

Michael Behr, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Piedmont, says there are two main reasons to wear a knee brace:

  • Structural support

  • Pain relief

Knee braces for structural support

Knee braces are commonly prescribed by physicians for patients who have an ACL tear or some type of knee injury. The knee brace can provide added support during the recovery process.

Three types of knee braces that provide structural support include:

  • Functional braces. Studies have shown these types of braces provide some protection and additional stability to the knee after it has been injured.

  • Rehabilitative braces. These limit side-to-side and up-and-down movement of the knee while it is healing after an injury or surgery.

  • Prophylactic braces. These are designed to prevent injury to the knees during contact sports.

The decision to wear a structural support for the knee should be based on several factors, including:

  • Which ligaments are injured

  • What rehabilitation you have done or plan to do

  • The sport in which you are participating

It is always wise to consult your physician on which knee brace is right for you.

“A knee brace can help athletes through an injury by providing additional support that will allow him or her to continue with physical activity,” Dr. Behr says. “Today, many football players wear knee braces to prevent injury. Football players put an extra amount of pressure on their knees because of the sharp turns and lateral movement in this sport. All this movement can move your bones and ligaments in unnatural ways. Knee braces have proven to be a wise preventative measure in this particular sport.”

Knee braces for pain relief

Others may find comfort and peace of mind in wearing a knee brace, especially those who suffer from osteoarthritis or chronic pain from a previous injury.

“There is no medical research that says a knee brace is a cure for knee problems, but if it helps the symptoms and provides peace of mind, it is okay,” he says.

A common knee brace for arthritic pain relief is an unloader brace. These are designed to “unload” stress that is caused by arthritis in the inner knee.

This type of brace is custom-designed and made of molded plastic, foam and steel struts to limit side movement. It is designed to put three points of pressure on the thigh bone, which forces the knee to bend away from the painful area.

Knee braces and exercise

“A knee brace should not typically be used as an excuse to avoid exercise,” Dr. Behr warns. “Unless you are prescribed complete rest by a physician, there is usually a benefit to regular stretching and at least moderate exercise to help strengthen the leg muscles, which in turn helps to support the knee.”

He also points out the importance of maintaining an ideal weight since obesity significantly adds pressure to all of the joints, including the knees. Stretching every day is equally important, both prior to vigorous exercise as well as after.

For more tips to keep your joints healthy and strong, visit Living Better’s Bone, Muscle and Joint Health page. 

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