How Does A Knee Brace Help? | 4 Crucial Benefits, Different Types, and When You Need It

A woman sitting on the couch wearing a knee brace

You can find a knee brace practically anywhere. But, how does a knee brace help? Can it help you?

Braces help by protecting the knee and providing support to the joint. But, the level of protection and support will vary depending on the type of brace.

For example, a soft knee sleeve will provide compression. This is great for people with mild knee pain.

But, a rigid hinge will protect the knee ligaments while they’re healing after surgery.

Here, I’ll show you:

  • 4 ways a knee brace helps.
  • Types of knee braces.
  • When should you wear a brace?

4 ways a knee brace can help you

1) A brace can promote healing after an injury

A knee brace provides extra support and compression to the joint. This, in turn, promotes the healing of the tissue by:

  • Relieving some of the pressure within the joint.
  • Increasing the blood flow in the injured area.
  • Helping you to remain active.

All these will help you recover faster.

2) Braces can support the knee

The extra support from the brace can stabilize the knee after a ligament injury.

Without putting a lot of strain on your healing tissues, this allows you to:

  • Continue doing your daily activities,
  • Remain active, and
  • Exercise

A brace may also make your joints feel more stable. This helps a lot when it comes to doing your rehabilitation exercises.

3) Wearing a brace can help with pain relief

The compression and support from the knee brace can relieve pain in some people.

For example, a sleeve can keep the joint warm during a workout. Some athletes enjoy this as they’re able to train harder without pain.

This also helps people with arthritis, as it can reduce some knee pain from daily activities.

But keep in mind that, even though braces may relieve symptoms, they won’t solve the root cause of the pain.

A brace is a fraction of the treatment. It won’t replace working on your leg strength and stability.

Knee braces should be used in conjunction with a rehabilitation program that incorporates strength training, flexibility, activity modification and technique refinement.Paluska, 2000

4) A brace can make you feel safer

After an injury, people who wear a knee brace often feel more in control and safer with their knee movement.

This is also true for people with moderate or severe knee arthritis.

This boost in confidence is important in physical therapy. To us, this could mean that you’ll be more comfortable moving your knee and doing your exercises.

This, of course, will help you recover faster!

Types of knee braces

There are several types of knee braces. We can divide them into two broad categories, depending on what you’re going to need it for (1):

To help you heal after an injury or surgery

Depending on where you are in your healing process, these can either be one of 2 types:

  • Functional braces, or
  • Rehabilitative braces

Functional braces

These allow you to bend and straighten your knee joint while restricting lateral movements. The level of restriction will vary depending on the type of brace.

For example, some functional braces have bulky hinges. They look like a metal cage for the knee, which protects the joint and keeps it stable.

Others look more like sleeves with removable hinges. They provide compression and stability for mild injuries.

A functional brace can help in (1, 2, 3):

  • Mild to moderate ligament injuries. A hinged brace will help stabilize the knee joint while the ligaments heal.
  • Meniscus injuries. An unloader brace can reduce the pressure on the injured meniscus. In turn, this promotes healing and pain relief.
  • Arthritis. A knee sleeve with hinges can provide compression and stability around your knee. Again, this can relieve pain.

Rehabilitative braces

God forbid it happens, you may have to wear this after a severe knee injury or surgery.

Most rehabilitative knee braces have bulky hinges and a dial. These limit the range of movement of the knee joint. Your doctor will set the limit to let the knee heal properly after surgery.

They may also include a wrap-around knee sleeve to provide compression. This will help reduce the pain and swelling.

These knee braces usually have extra-long straps. This makes sure there’s enough room available for the dressing after surgery. This is also why it’s best not to cut them unless your doctor tells you to.

To prevent a knee injury from happening

These are also known as “prophylactic knee braces.” They’re common in contact sports.

They’re usually worn by athletes with healthy knees or with a history of ligament injuries. They tend to wear them during practice, so they don’t get injured before a game. (1)

Research shows that a prophylactic knee brace bought off the shelf can provide 20 to 30% extra ligament protection. (4)

This is great news – a custom-made brace is usually expensive.

When should you wear a knee brace?

Wearing a knee brace is a case-by-case decision. But, we usually recommend wearing a brace in scenarios such as:

  • After a ligament or meniscus injury to reduce the pressure on the joint and provide stability.
  • Pain with knee movement.
  • After surgery, to relieve the pressure within the knee.
  • In knee arthritis as some people feel less pain and more in control.
  • Mild swelling during or after exercising.

Make sure to talk with your physical therapist or doctor about how a knee brace fits into your rehab plan.

FAQs:

Is wearing a knee brace all day safe?

If it’s the right size, yes. But, most knee supports are meant to be worn for certain activities, like walking or playing sports.

The safest choice will always be following the recommendations of your doctor.

Can a knee support make it worse?

If you need a knee support, it shouldn’t make it worse. It’s best to ask your doctor whether a knee support can improve or worsen your knee problem.

If you’re going to buy one off the shelf, make sure to choose the right type of brace. Also, double-check the size before buying.

When are knee braces helpful?

When you have knee pain or you need extra support for your joint.

But, a knee brace is only one part of the whole treatment – it won’t replace natural leg strength or knee stability.

When do you need a knee brace for pain?

If you have knee pain, consult with your doctor or physical therapist first. This is because a brace might not be the best option for you.

That said, we may suggest wearing a brace if the pain is:

  • Not letting you do your daily activities.
  • A consequence of knee instability.
  • Aggravated with movement – like playing sports or walking.

Conclusion: How can a knee brace help?

Wearing a brace helps by providing extra support, pain relief, and overall safety.

The level of support and compression will depend on the type of brace you’re wearing.

It’s best to seek medical advice before buying knee braces. Your doctor can tell you which brace is the right brace for your needs.

Resources

  1. Paluska, S A, and D B McKeag. “Knee braces: current evidence and clinical recommendations for their use.” American family physician vol. 61,2 (2000): 411-8, 423-4
  2. Kalra, Mayank et al. “The effect of unloader knee braces on medial meniscal strain.” Prosthetics and orthotics international vol. 43,2 (2019): 132-139. doi:10.1177/0309364618798173
  3. Chuang, Shih-Hung et al. “Effect of knee sleeve on static and dynamic balance in patients with knee osteoarthritis.” The Kaohsiung journal of medical sciences vol. 23,8 (2007): 405-11. doi:10.1016/S0257-5655(07)70004-4
  4. Mortaza, Niyousha et al. “The effects of a prophylactic knee brace and two neoprene knee sleeves on the performance of healthy athletes: a crossover randomized controlled trial.” PloS one vol. 7,11 (2012): e50110. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050110
  5. Tiggelen, Damien Van et al. “The effects of a neoprene knee sleeve on subjects with a poor versus good joint position sense subjected to an isokinetic fatigue protocol.” Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine vol. 18,3 (2008): 259-65. doi:10.1097/JSM.0b013e31816d78c1