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What Is a Prophylactic Knee Brace?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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A prophylactic knee brace fits around the leg and is designed to protect the knee from injury during contact sports. It can incorporate unilateral or bilateral hinge designs and is comprised mainly of bars, hinges, and straps with adhesives. Using a knee brace when stress is put on the knee prevents or limits the severity of injuries to ligaments in that part of the body, such as the medial collateral ligament (MCL) or the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are also protected.

The benefits of a prophylactic knee brace include the absorption of impact forces that can cause damage. It also decreases the force on the MCL and protects the ACL against damage from rotational forces during contact sports, such as football. The length of the brace should be as long as can comfortably fit on the person’s leg. Unilateral and bilateral braces dissipate the energy during a contact injury differently. Depending on the motion involved, the dispersal of the force can prevent an injury on one ligament but not on another.

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In recent years, the effectiveness of a prophylactic knee brace has been questioned. Using one often helps on a case by case basis, but large studies have not proven significant benefits on a broader scale. Newer technologies are making these types of knee braces more effective. Features such as double upright hinges, based on biomechanics, direct force away from the major ligaments. Comprehensive research has expanded the understanding of how different kinds of motion affect the knee ligaments, and experiments with functional models and cadaver knees have led to better knee braces.

People who experience knee ligament injuries are always at risk for being hurt again. If they wear a prophylactic knee brace, the ligaments are protected against further injury, but the brace can interfere with the performance of athletes. It may create a false sense of security, and injury is possible if the person wearing the brace is not careful. In sports, the brace can also cause injuries to other players if they come in contact with it.

Offensive and defensive linemen in football use a knee brace more often, as they are at a higher risk for knee injuries, but other players often decide against it. The prophylactic knee brace is recommended by professional and school coaches quite often, despite contradictory study data questioning its effectiveness. Patients often say that by wearing a brace, they have less pain and experience less severe injuries following knee trauma.

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