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People who participate in sports that involve a high amount of lateral movement or pressure on the knee joint want often ask orthopaedic doctors and surgeons the same question: do knee braces help prevent injuries? While some athletes in all levels of many sports, especially football and skiing, swear by knee braces and say their knees feel stronger and more supported when they wear them to play, the scientific community still can’t definitively prove that wearing knee braces on healthy knees prevents injury.
Orthopaedic experts recommend certain kinds of knee braces for people who have suffered a knee injury in the past. People recovering from (or after they have recovered) serious damage to the knee ligaments need knee braces to stabilize their joint and avoid re-injury. There are four types of knee braces:
- Prophylactic Braces—designed for preventative measures. These braces are the type that skiers, football players, basketball players, and other athletes use even if their knees are healthy, in hopes of preventing an injury.
- Functional Braces—designed to reinstate knee joint stability and comfort after a serious injury or surgery.
- Rehabilitative Braces—limit movement while the knee joint is still healing from surgery or the injury itself.
- Unloader/offloader Braces—specifically designed for people who suffer from arthritis in the knee in order to unweight the most involved side of the knee.
In most cases, functional, rehabilitative, and unloader braces work more effectively than prophylactic ones. Whether this is because these three types of braces help people recover and heal from various specific injuries, and prophylactic braces are designed for a more amorphous purpose is unclear. Do knee braces help prevent injuries? The answer depends upon who is asked. Some doctors may recommend prophylactic knee braces for some especially active patients who put more than a normal amount of stress on their knees.