Knee braces are garments generally used for knee injuries. You already know they help support the knee and benefit your healing process. But, you may be wondering: How to put on a knee brace properly?
For starters, most braces have straps. They should be tight but not constricting – you can check this with the two-finger method.
But, there are several types of braces, and putting on these different types may vary.
For example, some have condyle pads. They must align with your joint or you won’t get their full benefits.
After knee surgery, your doctor may recommend wearing a brace that restricts your knee range of motion. In this case, you must be careful not to change the degree of the knee brace.
In any case, here’s what you’ll find below:
- Instructions on how to put on a brace and considerations for the most common types of knee braces.
- Which brace may be best for your injury.
- Tips to make it more comfortable.
How to wear a knee brace properly in 7 steps
- First, make sure the brace will be in contact with the skin. Roll up your pants or wear shorts.
- Sit in a chair with your leg slightly bent.
- Slip your foot into the brace and slide it up to your leg until it’s over your knee.
- If the brace has a kneecap hole, make sure your kneecap is visible through it. That means you’re wearing it correctly.
- Fit each strap properly. Tighten it around your knee and secure it.
- Make sure you can fit two fingers between your skin and the brace.
- Walk a little to see how it feels. If it slides down, it’s too loose. If it’s painful or you’re feeling tingling below your knee, it’s too tight.
Take note: The steps above are a general guide. That said, some of these steps can vary depending on the type of brace:
How to put on a hinged knee brace properly?
For this type of brace, make sure the hinges are at the center of each side of your leg. That will make sure your ligaments are fully protected.
Some of these braces also have a kneecap hole. If that’s the case, make sure your kneecap is also visible through the hole.
Finally, put it on while sitting. This will make it easier for you to place it correctly.
If you’re not sure how to put it on, ask your doctor or physical therapist to teach you how to do it.
How to put on a knee brace after ACL surgery?
Your surgeon or physical therapist is going to teach you how to wear a knee brace post-surgery. But, here are general guidelines on how to do it:
- Sit in a chair and slide the brace up to your knee.
- These braces have pads called “condyle pads”. They should sit on each side of the joint. To place them correctly, draw an imaginary line from the top of the kneecap to the center of the condyle pad.
- The back strap should sit on the back of the knee, below the knee crease, and at the top of your calf muscle. This will anchor the brace in the right place.
Remember: These knee braces are set to only allow a certain range of motion for your recovery.
So, don’t change the degree or unlock it without your doctor’s permission. Also, don’t move around too much, lest the brace moves out of place.
The straps tend to be longer here compared to other braces. So, please don’t cut them immediately. You may need the extra length to make space for the dressing post-surgery.
How to make sure it’s the right fit?
Your physician or physical therapist should know which type of brace is best for your needs.
If you’re planning on buying a brace off-the-shelf, make sure it’s the right size. Also, some brands have different size charts, so make sure you check that out, too.
In any case, here are a few things you can take note of:
- You should be able to slide two fingers under the straps of your brace. If you can’t, it’s too tight. If you can do it easily, it’s too loose.
- Fix the straps. Then, repeat the 2-finger test to make sure the brace is a proper fit.
- Walk with it. This is so you can gauge how you feel with it. You may have to re-adjust, though.
Please take your time with this process. An improperly fitted brace can be useless, if not harmful.
Dangers of an improperly fitted brace
It won’t provide any benefits
If it’s too loose, it will slide down your leg all the time. This means it won’t stabilize your knee or provide compression as well as it should. In turn, this also compromises its ability to reduce pain and swelling.
It’s also important that you align the brace correctly, especially if you’re recovering from an ACL injury.
Wearing a misaligned brace can increase the strain on the ACL compared to not wearing it. This defeats the whole purpose of wearing a brace in the first place.(1)
“The correct alignment of the brace was identified as a key factor decisively influencing the effectiveness of bracing.” – Hacker, 2019
This can help: How to keep your knee brace in place
It can cause other symptoms
If a knee brace is too tight, the excessive compression can make it uncomfortable or even useless.
The pressure could also cause:
- More knee pain.
- Skin damage.
- Tingling or numbness down the leg.
- Increased swelling.
How to choose the right brace for you?
Ultimately, your physician or physical therapist will decide which brace will be best according to your needs. But, here are common types of braces, so you know what to expect:
You’ll likely wear one of these if you:
- Torn a ligament – partially or completely.
- Had knee surgery.
- Don’t want to aggravate a previous knee injury.
- Play sports and want to prevent injuries during practice.
These braces have a hinge on one or both sides of the knee. They support your knee, keep it stable, and protect it from further damage.
They can be functional or non-functional.
Functional braces allow knee movement while keeping it stable and protected. For example, some athletes wear the brace during practice to protect their knees.(2)
Non-functional braces immobilize the knee or restrict the range of movement. This is to protect the joint while it’s healing, usually after surgery.
These are usually recommended for:
- Knee osteoarthritis on one side of the knee.
- After meniscus surgery.
- After a mild or moderate meniscus injury.
This type of brace pulls or pushes the knee to one side or the other, reducing the load on one side of the knee. This helps reduce pain and allows healing.
Some models can unload the whole knee with a spring system. This is usually recommended for people with severe knee arthritis. (3)
Further reading: All about unloader braces for knee OA.
It’s best to wear a knee sleeve if you:
- Work out in a cold climate or rest a lot between sets.
- Have knee arthritis.
- Want to manage mild knee pain and swelling after your workout.
Sleeves are usually made of neoprene. They provide some compression, stability, and keep the knee joint warm during exercise.
They are usually recommended to people with a knee injury that doesn’t restrict movement or causes too much pain.
4 tips to be comfortable when you wear a knee brace
1) Wear it properly
Make sure you positioned the hinges, pads, and/or straps right. The brace shouldn’t be painful to wear if you get these right.
Walk a little to see whether it feels comfortable or not. Loose or tighten it if needed.
2) Wear baggy clothes or shorts
The brace will work better if it’s in direct contact with the joint.
Wearing it over pants can make it slide down easily. The only exception is with a knee immobilizer.
3) Remove it from time to time
This will let your skin breathe and relieve the skin pressure.
Talk to your doctor about how much weight can you bear -if any- on the injured leg while you’re not wearing the brace.
4) Avoid getting it wet
This can damage the brace. Follow the instructions of the manufacturer to wash it properly.
Remember this to help you heal quickly
Follow medical advice
Trust your healthcare provider. They know how to help you recover as quickly and safely as possible.
They will also tell you:
- Things you must know about your particular injury.
- For how long you should wear your brace.
- What movements to avoid.
Your doctor or physical therapist will know which brace is best for your injury. Although, this process may include some trial and error.
If you feel like your brace isn’t the right fit, talk to your healthcare provider. They will help you find the right knee brace for you.
Go to physical therapy
Knee braces are only one piece of the treatment.
Yes, they support your knee and help you feel more in control. But, remember that your treatment has several other parts.
That said, rehabilitation is essential for a full recovery. It will help you:
- Strengthen your leg.
- Fasten your recovery.
- Recover your range of motion.
- Prevent future injuries.
- Improve your flexibility.
Your physical therapist will work with you and your physician to design the best recovery plan for you.
Take care of your overall health to heal faster
Eat nutritious foods and focus on protein. Research shows our energy requirements increase when we’re recovering from an injury. Not meeting those requirements can delay healing.
Sleep 7-9 hours each night. Some studies show that poor sleep can delay the process of tissue healing as well, regardless of how good your nutrition is.
Try to keep your stress levels at a minimum. Research shows it can make you heal slower.
Is it OK to wear your brace all day?
This depends on the type of brace.
Wear your post-surgery braces according to your surgeon’s instructions. Other braces are usually meant for wearing only on certain activities, like walking or playing sports.
Can wearing knee braces hurt your knee?
If it’s too tight, yes. Make sure it’s the correct size to prevent this.
Is there a way to alter a knee brace if it pinches the back of your knee?
Don’t alter the knee brace itself, you can damage it. If you feel pinching on the back of your knee, try wearing a thin knee sleeve underneath the brace.
What do you wear under a knee brace?
Nothing, or a thin piece of clothing like lycra or a knee sleeve.
Conclusion: How to put on a knee brace correctly?
This will depend on the type of brace you’re wearing. It’s best to follow the indications of your doctor and therapist to make sure the brace fits you properly.
But remember, that’s only a fraction of your recovery. Strengthen your leg, work on your mobility and balance, and you’ll be able to stop wearing your knee brace!
- Hacker, Steffen P et al. “The effect of knee brace misalignment on the anterior cruciate ligament: An experimental study.” Prosthetics and orthotics international vol. 43,3 (2019): 309-315. doi:10.1177/0309364618824443
- 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
- McGibbon, Chris A et al. “Biomechanical Study of a Tricompartmental Unloader Brace for Patellofemoral or Multicompartment Knee Osteoarthritis.” Frontiers in bioengineering and biotechnology vol. 8 604860. 28 Jan. 2021, doi:10.3389/fbioe.2020.604860
- “Knee Bracing: What works?” American Academy of Family Physicians. Last updated: August 19, 2020. Retrieved on June 24, 2021 from: https://familydoctor.org/knee-bracing-what-works/