"I Wear A Brace, But It Still Hurts" Part 2: The Knee
Recovering From Knee Injuries:
How knee braces may help you (and hurt you) when returning to sports
At RTP Elite, we love the knee! Without them, we would all walk like penguins. In athletic humans, the knee is the second most commonly injured part of the body. Most people who have knee pain will turn to a brace to help reduce the pain and keep them in the game.
There are many people who have knee pain just below the knee cap (patella), have had a knee cap dislocation, or have been told their knee cap does not track properly; these are all reasons people will choose to wear a brace. The most common braces worn by athletes are a patella strap, a patella/knee support brace, or a compression sleeve.
The Pros And Cons - Patella Strap
Pro: The patella strap brace is used to take pressure off the patella tendon (red circle in above picture). Some people will also use pre-wrap (under wrap) or tape before practice to provide the same support. This type of support reduces stress on the patella tendon which can reduce pain during practice.
Con: But once you take off the brace, the pain will likely return. The support reduces stress on the area that is sore which allows it to rest.
However, if you read our last post, you know that rest does not help tendons build up to be stronger but allows them to get weaker. The best way to help a tendon get stronger is to apply the right amount of load at the right time to promote positive adaptation to grow stronger. The patellar tendon connects to the strongest muscle in the leg, the quadriceps. This muscle is used for all activities that involve straightening the knee, it is essential to keep this tendon strong and healthy.
Take away message: The brace will help it feel better during practice, but that pain relief will be temporary and won’t help your tendon or muscles get stronger.
“Rest does not help tendons build up to be stronger but allows them to get weaker.”
The Pros And Cons - Patella/Knee Support Brace
Pro: If you have been told you have a “knee cap tracking issue” you may choose to wear this brace. The patellar/knee support brace provides support to the knee that makes the area feel more secure while walking, running, jumping, or participating in practice or a game. It will also make you feel more confident in practice and will allow you to trust your knee again, especially if you have had a kneecap dislocation.
Con: Yes, this brace will support your knee during practice, but it does not help your knee return to its full, normal function. If you have had a kneecap dislocation or are worried your kneecap does not track properly, it is likely there are faulty mechanics or bad training habits at play causing pain. The brace will help during practice, but when you are not wearing it, you body will return to using the mechanics it was using before; meaning nothing has changed. So while a brace may make you feel more confident, it is not helping your knee work more effectively. Once you take off the brace, your chances of re-injuring your knee or having a new injury are increased.
Take away message: This brace will help you feel more confident in practice, but it will not help your muscles control your knee (or kneecap) the right way.
The Pros And Cons - Knee Compression Sleeve
Pro: The compression sleeve functions similarly to the patellar/knee support brace; it provides support that makes you feel more secure while wearing the brace. It also may provide some relief from swelling around the knee.
Con: While the brace makes you feel more confident, it does not address the mechanics that cause your knee to have pain. If your knee has swelling, it will help reduce the swelling, but it does not address the cause of the swelling. Once you take off the brace, you will likely continue to have swelling.
Take away message: This brace will help you feel more confident in practice, but it will not help your muscles control your knee (or kneecap) the right way to reduce pain or swelling.
Special Topic - Copper Infused Compression Sleeve
Some brands sell copper infused knee braces that state they will help your muscles recover faster because the copper retains heat and improves blood circulation. However, the compression component is meant to reduce circulation to prevent swelling. So if the compression reduces circulation and the heat increases circulation the overall effect on circulation will be neutral. Additionally, if you are exercising while wearing this brace, your body temperature will already be elevated. The body is meant to operate at a specific temperature and keeps itself at that temperature by releasing excess heat through sweating. If your knee is warm from exercise, any increased heat generated by the brace will cause the knee to sweat more to keep it at the right temperature.
Take Away Message: The copper compression sleeve may make you think it’s making your knee better, but it’s probably just making your knee more sweaty.
“…it’s probably just making your knee more sweaty.”
What Braces Do NOT Do**
Make you heal faster
Improve your coordination or make your knee work effectively
Get you back to the level you were at before the pain started
Prevent injuries (i.e. repeat kneecap injuries, ACL tears, or meniscus tears)
**If you have had an ACL tear and a physician provided you with a knee brace it is very important to wear your knee brace as prescribed. This information does not address braces worn immediately after ACL/PCL tears or after surgery for ACL/PCL tears. However, if your injury was more than a year ago, this information may apply to you.**
Your Brace May Be Helping, But Your Body Can Do Better
Its not what you do in your brace, it’s what you do without it
When having knee pain, a knee brace may help reduce your pain, reduce swelling, and help you trust your knee in practice. However, when you are not in practice, it is essential to participate in a rehab program that helps your muscles and ligaments heal, strengthens the muscles that were injured, and helps to correct the faulty mechanics that allowed the injury or pain to happen in the first place.
A good rehab program should include tasks that help you:
Increase blood flow to bring healing cells to your muscles and tendons
Appropriately and progressively load the knee muscles to allow for muscle adaptation that increases your knee strength and stability.
Strengthen areas above and below the knee. The hip controls the knee and ankle supports the knee. When all three are functioning the right way, injury can be prevented.
“It’s not what you do in your brace, it’s what you do without it.”
If you have been struggling with chronic knee pain, kneecap dislocations, or “kneecap tracking issues” and are ready to get back to sport without relying on a brace, we are here to help!
Give us a call at (931) 854- 1177
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
to find out how to schedule your appointment with us today so we can help you turn your setbacks into comebacks!
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