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What Is a Knee Brace?

People who sustain a knee injury may need to wear a brace for a period of time.
A person wearing a knee brace.
Many runners sustain knee injuries when pushing their limits.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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A knee brace is a medical product that strengthens and supports injured knees. There are different styles, colors and materials used for knee braces. Since the knees are hinged joints, a knee brace features a single or double hinge to allow for bending. Some kinds of knee braces are designed to prevent injury, but their actual effectiveness is controversial. The main types of knee braces are arthritic, prophylactic and functional.

Functional knee braces are used after an injury such as a torn ligament to give the joints support and keep the knees from moving around too much. A functional type of knee brace may lessen the pain caused by an injury. These types of knee braces allow the knees to function more smoothly after injury.

Prophylactic knee braces are the type made to help prevent sports injuries, although experts disagree as to their level of support. Some sports medicine professionals assert that a prophylactic knee brace may actually lead to injury of the knees in athletes rather than prevent it. There is also some risk to other players of being harmed by the brace during game play.

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However, some experts in sports medicine prescribe prophylactic knee braces to athletes. Their educated opinion is that the delicate joints and ligaments of the knees are less likely to become injured when a knee brace is used. Each sports medicine doctor has his or her own medical viewpoint on the use of prophylactic knee braces. This preventive type of brace has shown some success in professional sports organizations such as the National Football League (NFL), but in many other studies the evidence to support the effectiveness of prophylactic knee braces was inconclusive.

Arthritic knee braces are used by some people with arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. An arthritic knee brace alone is not always an effective treatment for arthritic knees and the pain associated with them. Some doctors prescribe orthopedic shoes to be worn with an arthritic knee brace. A bandage wrapped around the knee under a brace may help control joint swelling caused by arthritis.

Many kinds of knee braces are black or tan in color, but others are available in vivid colors such as red or teal. Some knee braces feature sporty stripes. A knee brace wraps partially or fully around the knee; it may be made of a combination of metal, elastic and plastic materials. When it comes to selecting knee braces, the most expensive one isn’t always the best type. The proper brace type for each individual should be prescribed by a doctor.

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