How To Keep Knee Immobilizer From Slipping?

Written By on January 9, 2022 — Medically Reviewed By Kristopher Ceniza

Patient wearing knee immobilizer

If every time you put on your knee brace you wonder: “Will the knee brace stay in place this time? How to keep knee immobilizer from slipping?,” keep reading.

This is known as “knee brace migration.” When it slides down your knee, we call it “distal migration.” And, as you know, it’s annoying, to say the least.

But, the potential risk of a knee brace slipping is that it won’t keep the knee stabilized. It can worsen your knee injury as well.

So, below are some tricks to keep the brace where it’s supposed to be. Tap on any of them to go straight to that section:

How do I stop my knee brace from falling down?

1) Wear shorts to keep the brace close to your skin

Some people wear their knee brace over pants, but this isn’t a good idea. This can increase distal migration due to the friction between the fabric and the brace.

Also, if you wear your knee brace over pants, it will be less effective.

See, braces work in part because of their congruence with your knee joint. Pants change this, reducing the protection and stability of your injured knee.

Not to mention the annoyance of having your brace down to your ankle every 20 steps.

So, the best way to keep it from sliding is to wear the brace directly over your skin.

2) Put on your knee brace correctly

I know this is painfully obvious, but many people rush into this. Or, put on the brace in a hectic and distracting environment.

It’s best to sit and avoid putting on your knee brace in a hurry. You can avoid distal migration with a little patience and attention.

As a recap, here’s the step-by-step on how to put on your knee brace. Some parts can vary depending on the model of your brace, but in general:

  • Sit in a chair. Have the skin of your leg exposed from the thigh down to your ankle. If the area is sweaty, dry it with a towel
  • Straighten your leg in front of you. Slip the foot into the brace and slide it over your knee
  • If it has a patellar hole, fit your kneecap in it
  • Fast your straps tight
  • Walk a little to check how you feel. Loose or tighten the brace straps if necessary

This can help: How to put a knee brace depending on the model

3) Wear something thin under the brace to keep it in place

Skin irritation is one of the downsides of wearing a knee brace. This is particularly true for people with sensitive skin.

If this is you, try wrapping a self-stick bandage around your joint before you wear a knee brace. The self-stick adhesive is a thin, rubber material that lets your skin breathe.

This type of adhesive also has a similar texture to human skin. This may keep the knee brace without being in direct contact with your leg.

Another option is wearing a thin fabric under the brace to act as a buffer. You can do this with thin knee sleeves, compression pants, or tights, for example.

But, as with any fabric, it won’t prevent your knee brace from sliding down. It’s a better alternative than pants, though.

4) Secure the straps with adhesive

A worn strap won’t prevent distal migration, regardless of how tight you fasten it. The good news is that there are several things you can do here.

First, check if the manufacturer sells extra straps. You can buy them and change your old straps for new ones.

This is the best solution for people that need to wear knee braces daily, like patients with knee arthritis or athletes.

If that’s not an option for you, try putting a self-adhesive bandage under the strap.

The amount of self-adhesive will vary depending on the length of your strap. But, this trick can keep your knee brace in place for a while.

Pro tip: Avoid using duct tape or glue. They can damage the brace and/or your skin.

5) Take a break from wearing the knee brace

If your doctor or physical therapist allows it, remove the brace from time to time. This will prevent skin trauma, like pressure ridges or rashes.

Also, make sure you wear the brace during the recommended activities. If you only have to wear it while walking, remove it if you’re sitting watching TV.

Related: Should you wear a knee sleeve all day?

If nothing keeps your knee brace in place, ask yourself these questions

Am I wearing the right knee brace for my knee injury?

There are several types of knee braces that share many benefits:

  • Protect the knee
  • Manage pain
  • Provide support

But, each brace provides these benefits in different ways. Also, some are better for certain circumstances compared to others.

So, choosing a brace can get complicated. That’s why it’s best to ask your physical therapist about it.

During a physical therapy session, we can determine whether you should wear a knee brace and which one. We’ll also know which brace is the right style for your needs.

Here’s a rough guideline on the common types of knee braces and how they help:

Knee sleeves are better for mild injures

Most sleeves are made of a material called “neoprene.” This is a type of compression fabric that also retains heat and increases blood flow.

Compression and heat retention can enhance athletic performance. They may also reduce pain and swelling after working out or after a mild injury.

Some people feel more stability while wearing a sleeve as well. This increases their confidence in doing their rehabilitation exercises, which is key for any recovery. (1)

Many sleeves include a velcro part to keep the brace in place. Others have hinges for an additional supportive layer.

Hinged knee braces are better for severe injuries

This type of brace is the right support for people recovering from a severe injury or surgery. Also, for people with an unstable joint.

Knee braces with a polycentric knee joint can provide support, which may reduce pain. They also protect your knee from external forces. This lets the healing process of the injury happen without setbacks.

Some contact sports athletes wear hinged knee braces during practice to prevent leg injuries as well. (2)

Learn more: What’s the difference between a knee stabilizer and a sleeve?

Are you sure it’s the right size for you?

If your knee brace is too big, nothing will keep it from slipping. Wearing compression pants won’t make much difference either.

Most brands have their own sizing chart, so make sure to double-check it before buying. Measure the circumference of your calf and knee according to the manufacturer’s instructions as well.

If you can try the brace before buying, do the two-fingers test. Slide two fingers between the inside pad of your brace and your skin. If you can do it easily, the brace is too big for you. If you can’t do it, it’s too tight – go for a bigger size.

Learn how to find the right size of knee brace instead of battling with one that won’t stay in place!

Why do knee braces slide down the leg?

Distal migration happens because of several reasons:

Gravity

When you move your leg, your muscles contract. Each contraction can move the brace a little bit, and over time, it will shift the place of the support. So, the brace won’t be congruent with your joint anymore. (3)

The knee brace is old

Maybe the straps or the inside pad are worn out. This will make it hard for the brace to grasp your leg and remain in place. The solution here is changing the worn parts if possible or buying a new brace.

The brace is too big for you

No pants or compression tights will keep your knee brace from slipping in this case. It’s best to buy a new brace.

This will help: The top 10 knee braces according to our physios

FAQs:

Do knee braces go under or over pants?

They go under your pants, in direct contact with your skin. It won’t stabilize the knee joint properly otherwise.

Can you walk with a knee immobilizer?

Yes, if the design of the knee brace allows you to walk.

It’s best to ask your doctor or physical therapist about it. They will tell you when and how to walk with your brace.

How do I adjust my knee immobilizer?

Sit in a chair and put on the knee brace. Make sure your kneecap is visible through the patellar hole if your brace has it.

The lower strap of the knee brace should sit above the calf muscle. Anchor it and fasten the other straps. Slide two fingers under the straps to check if you have to tighten or loose them up.

Walk with your knee brace to check how it feels. Tighten or loosen the straps if necessary.

Conclusion: How to keep a knee brace from slipping down?

You can keep your knee brace in place by trying any of the tips above. If none of them worked, you may need a different knee brace – or not at all.

Finally, remember that braces are one part of the whole treatment. They won’t replace rehabilitation – this is what will help your knee support itself.

Resources

  1. 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
  2. Paluska, S A, and D B McKeag. “Knee brace: current evidence and clinical recommendations for their use.” American family physician vol. 61,2 (2000): 411-8, 423-4
  3. Esrafilian, Amir et al. “Design and evaluation of a new type of knee orthosis to align the mediolateral angle of the knee joint with osteoarthritis.” Advances in orthopedics vol. 2012 (2012): 104927. doi:10.1155/2012/104927

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Author
Mich Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.

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