Oct 15, 2002 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Knee Bracing: What Works?

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Oct 15;66(8):1521-1522.

What are knee braces?

Knee braces are supports that you wear for a painful or injured knee. Some people use them to prevent knee injuries during sports. Braces are made from combinations of metal, foam, plastic, elastic material, and straps. They come in many sizes, colors, and designs.

What kinds of knee braces are there? What do they do?

There are four main kinds of knee braces:

  1. Prophylactic (say: pro-fa-lack-tick) braces.

  2. These are designed to protect knees from injuries during contact sports like football.

  3. Functional braces. These give support to knees that have already been injured.

  4. Rehabilitative braces. These limit harmful knee movement while a knee is healing after an injury or surgery.

  5. Patellofemoral (say: pa-tell-o-fem-or-all) braces. These help the kneecap move smoothly over the knee joint.

Do knee braces work?

Maybe. Companies that make knee braces claim that their products work well. Scientific studies have not completely agreed. It's not clear what the knee braces actually do. Braces often work better in the laboratory than they do in normal use.

In general, functional braces and rehabilitative braces are the most effective. Braces help some people more than others. Some doctors and trainers think that knee braces may actually increase the number of knee injuries in athletes. In general, most people who wear knee braces think that they help. Doctors are trying to learn more about how well knee braces really work and when it's best to use them. Remember, the need for a brace should be determined by your doctor.

When are knee braces used?

Different knee problems require different knee braces. Your doctor may suggest one kind of knee brace after knee surgery. Some doctors may choose another kind of knee brace for support instead of surgery for a torn knee ligament. You may also need one for pain if your knee isn't getting better with strengthening and flexibility exercises. Braces don't seem to work well to stop knee injuries from happening. Get your doctor's advice if you want to try a knee brace.

How do I get a knee brace?

There are many ways to get a knee brace. Pharmacies and medical supply stores often carry simple knee sleeves or supports. Some people order knee braces directly from the manufacturers or through the Internet. Your doctor is a good resource and may know about different knee brace companies. Your doctor can help you choose a brace and get the right size.

Some knee braces cost hundreds of dollars. Sometimes medical insurance companies will pay for them. Remember, the most expensive brace isn't always the best one.

How do I use a knee brace?

During sports, knee braces should be used as directed by your doctor. Take care when putting the brace on to make sure that the hinges are where the knee bends. Straps, tapes, or hook-and-loop tapes should be fastened around your leg. You should check the placement of the brace during activities to make sure that it hasn't moved. Poorly positioned braces can hurt rather than help you.

To work well, a knee brace should be worn during all activities that put you at risk of injury. Don't forget to warm up and stretch properly before beginning any athletic activity.

How do I care for my knee brace?

Knee braces often get damaged during normal use. You should inspect your brace often for wear and tear. Regular cleaning with soap and water is good for the brace fabric. Exposed metal pieces should be covered to protect others from injury. A worn-out brace should be replaced for maximum benefit. More durable materials may cost more, but the brace might last longer.

Should I keep doing leg exercises once I have a knee brace?

Knee braces are the least important part of preventing knee injuries or getting better after an injury. Even with a knee brace on, you could still injure your knee. Stretching, strengthening, and sports technique improvement are much more important.

You should make changes in intensity or training schedules little by little, to limit knee stress. Good strength and flexibility are important for less knee pain and injuries. You should work out an exercise plan with your doctor to get the best program for you. Don't let a knee brace become a “crutch.”


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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