More people are using knee braces than ever before, due in part to an increase in knee arthritis, as well as improvements in knee brace design.
You might think bracing is only used for sports injuries or after surgery, but knee braces offer plenty of other benefits, too — especially for people with chronic knee pain due to arthritis and other causes.
At Orange Orthopaedic Associates, our board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon, James M. Lee Jr., MD, helps patients understand the benefits of knee braces, working with each patient to decide if a brace is a good choice for relieving their knee pain.
Here’s what he wants you to know about the benefits of knee braces.
Knee braces and knee pain
Knee pain can have different underlying causes, and it can cause different symptoms, too. Luckily, there are lots of options when it comes to choosing the right brace, including the type of brace that’s ideal for your unique knee problem.
These braces are often what people are talking about when they’re looking for a brace to provide pain relief. Unloader braces do what their name implies: They “unload” or shift weight from the sore joint, distributing it to other, healthy structures.
We typically prescribe these braces after a joint injury or surgery. Rehabilitative braces give your knee the support and protection it needs while it heals. Rehabilitative braces can help your joint function during regular daily activities and during physical therapy sessions.
These are the braces you see on many professional athletes who return to their sport after a knee injury. These braces are designed to give the knee added support that can help prevent future injury.
Knee sleeves aren't braces in the traditional sense, but they do help provide some limited amount of support that can aid in healing. If you have very mild symptoms of knee pain, a knee sleeve could be a good solution to help you feel better.
Benefits of knee braces
Knee braces work in several ways to help relieve knee pain, heal damage, and even prevent further joint injury and dysfunction.
The primary purpose of most braces is to restrict range of movement in a joint. Some injuries interfere with normal joint function, allowing a joint to move outside of its normal range of motion or causing instability that can lead to further injury.
That’s especially true with weight-bearing joints like the knee, where a little instability can dramatically increase your risk of falls.
Many knee braces provide some degree of compression for the joint. Compression gives the ligaments, tendons, and muscles added support, helping them function normally while reducing stress and strain.
Some knee devices (particularly close-fitting knee sleeves) retain body warmth. Together with compression, this added warmth can help relax muscle tension and stimulate circulation in your knee.
Circulation helps speed healing by delivering oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissues, and it also helps carry away toxins associated with inflammation.
Wearing your knee brace
When we prescribe your brace, we prescribe its use, too. That means that to get the most benefits from your brace — and to prevent potential problems — you need to follow instructions for when to wear it.
Depending on your symptoms, your health history, your lifestyle, and other factors, you may need to wear your brace all day or just during specific activities. We may prescribe therapy or other treatments along with your brace.
Wearing your brace exactly as prescribed helps you maximize the benefits while avoiding muscle atrophy or other problems that could actually worsen your pain. Your overall goal is to wear your brace as often as recommended — not more and not less.
Only wear a knee brace from your doctor
There was a time when braces were only available from your doctor. But today, you can buy them at drugstores and from online sources. The problem is, a knee brace is a medical device, and like any medical device, it needs to be tailored to your needs, just like medication prescriptions.
Wearing a knee brace without a doctor’s guidance can actually wind up doing a lot more harm than good, allowing an undiagnosed knee problem to worsen or exacerbating your painful symptoms.
Bottom line: If you have knee pain, knee instability, or another issue you think might benefit from a brace, don’t try to treat yourself. Book an appointment at our West Orange or Bayonne, New Jersey, location. Together, we can decide if a brace might be a good solution for you.