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Knee News

Brace Yourself: Knee Braces May Not Help Athletes' Weak Knees After All

In almost any group of athletes, there will usually be someone wearing a knee brace. Knee bracing has become a common way to give extra support for problem knees. Often, doctors and therapists prescribe knee braces to their athletic patients who have had knee reconstruction surgery of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). But medical research shows conflicting evidence about how--and how well--knee bracing works.

In this study, 31 subjects were tested in three different situations: wearing a commonly used knee brace, wearing a brace that didn't really provide any support (the placebo brace), and wearing no brace at all. Researchers measured the subjects' performance as they ran around a figure-eight track and as they ran, turned, and landed on a marked spot. The idea was to test the braces under the conditions of real sports that involve a lot of turning, stopping, and jumping while running. All 31 subjects had undergone ACL reconstruction surgery at least five months before the tests.

The researchers found that bracing had little effect on most of the measurements. However, both the real brace and the placebo brace actually slowed down running and turning times. The subjects were significantly faster without a brace. Surprisingly, over half of the subjects reported that they preferred using the brace. While bracing may not give true knee support, it may offer psychological support.

The authors conclude that their study showed no reason to use knee braces to improve athletic performance after ACL reconstruction. However, they caution that braces may still be useful in some cases. Patients whose knees are loose and unsteady despite surgery might see some benefits from using a brace. Also, a study of nonathletic patients might show somewhat different results.

Gloria K. H. Wu, BSc, et al. Effects of Knee Bracing on the Functional Performance of Patients With Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. February 2001. Vol. 82. No. 5. Pp. 282-285.


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