Recovering from a torn ACL? Aiming to prevent sprains and strains of the knee tissue and ligaments? Knee braces are a customary option for prevention and treatment of knee injuries and ailments. For example, you may be required to wear a knee brace for an extended amount of time to aid in healing after surgery,  Like any brace, cast, or orthotic, however, without proper fit and wear, a knee brace can cause irritation and actually delay healing or cause further injury. How do you get it right with a knee brace the first time?

Choose the Right One

With the assistance of your medical provider, finding the right knee brace for your ailment, injury, or situation can be simple. The four primary types of knee braces include prophylactic, functional, rehabilitative, and offloader. Prophylactic knee braces are used preventatively to protect knees from potential injury and reduce knee stiffness. Functional knee braces provide support to previously injured knees. Rehabilitative braces are in the business of stabilizing the knee post-surgery or injury to limit movement that might further hurt the knee. And offloader braces (also known as unloader) are used to alleviate pain associated with arthritis in the knee(s).

Simple sleeves that slide up over the knee or wrap around it can be found online or at pharmacies, while more high-tech, engineered knee braces can require a doctor’s order and be issued from a medical supply company or manufacturer. In some cases, insurance may cover the cost of a knee brace, i.e. if you get an acl brace after surgery.

Wear It Right

Knee braces need to be positioned and harnessed correctly or they could cause further damage to an existing injury or cause a new one. Brace hinges should absolutely sit where the knee bends, and be adjusted accordingly if they move with leg activity. Your knee brace may have straps, loops, and tapes that need to be fastened.

Be extra aware of securing the brace to your knee so that it fits comfortably, stays in position, but is not too tight or too loose. Knee braces won’t always be a perfect fit the first time you try them on – like a good pair of running shoes, they need to be broken in and flex and mold to the shape of your leg to provide the right amount of compression and support.

Inspect It Often

Knee braces are guaranteed to take on their own wear and tear from simple use. Check your knee brace often for damage, exposed metal, and changes to the fabric. Clean with warm soap and water as needed and let it air out after exercise or activity when you are at rest. Some knee braces are hypoallergenic, which can prevent allergic reactions to the material with which they are made, and others are specifically latex-free.

Don’t Rely On It

The mental irritation in a prolonged recovery from a knee injury can be a direct effect of relying on your knee brace like a “crutch.” Knee braces are supportive aids engineered to support, align, and power your movements to help with healing, alleviate pain, or prevent injury. Wearing a knee brace for too long can inhibit proper movement and recovery, and can even cause skin irritation.

Keep Exercising

With physical therapy recommendations from your healthcare provider, continued strength and flexibility exercises should accompany the use of a knee brace. Stretching, exercising, and improving the technique with which you employ your knee (in day to day activity or with sports) all play a major role in healing – boosting blood flow, tending to the strained and inflamed tissues, and building strength for future activity. Of course an exercise program should be developed with and approved by your doctor, and you should add intensity and resistance adjustments over time, not all at once.

It’s not just a sports injury that can take your knee out of commission. Simple overuse can cause inflammation of the tissue and add stress to the knee joints – things like jogging, stair climbing, or jumping. If you are worried about a knee injury or simply looking to prevent damage to the knee cap and surrounding muscles and tendons, definitely talk to your doctor about supportive knee braces.