Common Knee Brace Questions
What are knee braces?
Knee braces are fitted supports that provide stability to the knee joint to reduce pain or prevent further injury. They come in a variety of styles, colours, and materials.
Simple supports are constructed from elastic materials which offer compression and can help with swelling/inflammation. Supports with metal hinges and straps offer more stability to the joint and ligaments which can help maintain proper knee alignment and prevent injury.
What are the different types of knee braces?
Prophylactic Braces – Sports such as football and rugby often have a high incidence of knee injuries due to the aggressive physical contact associated with sports. Prophylactic knee braces are used in many sports to provide stability to the knee joint to prevent injuries from occurring. They often provide general support to all the ligaments in the knee.
Functional Braces – When the knee has been injured (i.e. torn meniscus, ligament damage) it is important to protect the joint from further injury to allow for maximal recovery. Functional knee braces provide protection to already injured knees to allow for return to sports or any activities which place stress on the knee joint such as walking, running, gardening, dancing etc. The most commonly injured ligament which requires bracing is the ACL.
Rehabilitative Braces– When the knee has sustained a serious injury or following surgery it may be necessary to limit the amount of movement that is allowed at the knee. Rehabilitative braces have hinges which prevent movement (i.e. too much bending) as this may cause further injury. Some functional and prophylactic knee braces also have added adjustable features which allow them to act as rehabilitative braces.
Patellofemoral Braces – The patella (knee cap) can be the source of pain in many conditions including patellar dislocation, PFPS – patella femoral pain syndrome, and arthritis (chondromalacia patella). Patellofemoral braces can help with alignment of the knee cap as it moves over the thigh bone to prevent dislocation, inflammation and pain.
Unloader/offloader Braces – When there is arthritis in the knee, symptoms can include aching, sharp or burning pain usually on the inner part of the knee joint. The inner knee joint has more stress on it due to the weight of the body and the angle of the knee so the cartilage gets worn down and this places added stress on the bone. An unloader knee brace works by increasing the space within the joint on the affected compartment therefore placing less pressure on the bones and decreasing pain.
What size and type of brace is appropriate for me?
The size and type of knee brace appropriate for you depend mainly on the type of injury you have and what the primary use of the knee brace will be. For example, someone suffering from knee arthritis v.s. a complete ligament tear will require very different bracing. Likewise, if you have an ACL tear but need a brace for competitive soccer v.s. everyday walking, the type of support will differ.
Depending on the type of brace you need, varying measurements and angles will have to be taken around the knee to determine the appropriate size for you. Custom knee braces require the use of specialized measuring devices which measure precise knee contours and angles to ensure the custom brace fits perfectly around the knee to provide the maximum support available.
How do I get a knee brace?
Medical supply stores often carry generic knee supports and knee sleeves/wraps which may be beneficial for some individuals. However, while these braces may be cheaper in price, they often result in a poor fit or inadequate support.
There are hundreds of knee braces on the market so choosing the correct brace can be very difficult. This is why we always recommend speaking to a health professional that has experience working with knee braces. Additionally, knee braces can be covered by a medical health benefits plan so speaking to a health professional can help you determine your coverage so you don’t have to pay out of your pocket.
At Queen West Physiotherapy we provide knee brace consultations FREE of charge.
How do I put on a knee brace?
After your knee brace has been delivered, we will call you to schedule a fitting appointment. During this appointment you will learn how to put on and take off your knee brace safely to ensure it provides the support it is intended to. The strapping and tension on the brace is very important, especially with custom braces, so learning how to apply the knee brace is essential. Poorly fitted braces can hurt the knee rather than help it. During this time you will also be instructed on how to care for the brace, when to wear the brace and any warranty information. Some custom braces come with a limited lifetime warranty on the frame and hinge.
What about EXERCISE?
While knee braces help you recover from injury and prevent future injury, they provide only passive support. It is very important to strengthen the muscles which provide active support so the knee can become even stronger and more stable. Stretching the muscles around the knee is also important so they do not get tight which can cause pain or limited range of motion. When the knee muscles are strong and flexible the knee brace can provide the best support to speed up recovery and prevent injury. Exercise is very important because the knee needs to remain strong for times when you are not in the brace, do not depend on the knee brace like a crutch.