Knee braces are used for a wide variety of problems and conditions and are available in two basic types: functional knee braces and prophylactic knee braces. How do they work? And do they help?
Functional knee braces are designed to substitute for damaged ligaments, such as for a patient with an ACL tear wearing one to allow certain activities without surgery. Prophylactic knee braces are used to prevent knee injuries and are worn by athletes in high-risk sports to minimize the risk of knee injury. Functional knee braces are not perfect substitutes for normal ligaments, but they can help patients with knee ligament injuries. Studies show that the braces provide some protection to the knee but don’t help in situations of very high forces that occur abruptly.
Whether you should wear a functional knee brace for a ligament injury should be discussed with your doctor. Determining factors will include which ligaments are injured, what sport you are participating in, and what rehabilitation you have done or plan to do.
Physical therapy, including strengthening, is crucial in returning to sports following a ligament injury. Therapy and rehabilitation are far more important than a knee brace, as knee braces may only help to prevent re-injury to the knee.
Prophylactic knee braces are designed to prevent knee injuries in healthy athletes. They became popular in the late 1970s when the use of prophylactic knee braces was tested in NFL players. Since that time, several studies have investigated the injury rates in athletes who wear prophylactic knee braces versus those who don't wear knee braces, but there has been no concrete evidence to indicate that athletes who wear braces have fewer injuries.
Studies do show that football athletes have a lower rate of medial collateral ligament injury when wearing a prophylactic knee brace, but the effect of that brace should be placed in perspective. The likelihood of an injury is far more dependent on the sport played and the player’s position, physical condition, and size.
Keep in mind that the braces studied are not the simple knee sleeves that can be purchased at a drug store. These knee braces must be prescribed by your physician and specially ordered. If you are interested in using a knee brace for competitive sports, contact Sierra Pacific Orthopedics today at (559) 840-3667. Our doctors can prescribe the appropriate knee brace for you and ensure a proper fit.