Do knee braces cause muscle wasting?
It’s often stated that knee braces can cause muscle wasting, if used for too long. However, there has been very little research into this. A study by Callaghan et al. (2016) assessed 108 patients using braces for osteoarthritis of the patella-femoral joint (knee cap). They found that the maximum voluntary contraction of the quadricep (thigh) muscles did not reduce with brace use.
All studies have limitations. This study only assessed a flexible knee support, so we can’t apply the findings across all knee braces – they would need to be assessed separately.
Is it ok to use a knee brace all the time?
In clinical practice our advice to patients is to only use a brace if it reduces pain and improves function. A brace may be prescribed in the early stages of an injury and as symptoms improve, it is recommended that the use of brace is reduced. Long term, knee braces should only be used around activities that can increase the load in the knee and aggravate the joint such as prolonged walking, sports, gardening, etc.
Knee braces should be prescribed to ensure you are using the correct brace for your injury or knee pathology.
What should you do?
Using a flexible brace appears not to have a detrimental effect on the quadricep muscles in the short term. However, anyone wishing to wear a knee brace longer than this period should discuss this with a physiotherapist. The Physiotherapist at SPS are highly experienced and can assess the appropriateness of using a brace as well as ensuring it is being used appropriately for your knee pathology.
Are there knee braces for ACL injuries?
There are specific knee braces designed to assist with ACL injury. However, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced physiotherapist before using one of these braces. Whilst a brace may assist you, it is crucial that you fully rehabilitate your strength and balance before returning to sport following ACL injury to reduce the risk of re-injury of injury to the other knee.
Are there knee braces for osteoarthritis?
There are braces that are specifically designed for assisting with osteoarthritic pain. They range from several hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars in price. $1000 is a lot of money but compared to the cost of surgery and post-operative rehabilitation, may be a good alternative. The most expensive braces, often ‘unloading braces’, aim to unload the side of your knee that has the most arthritis to alleviate pain with activity. They do not fix your knee, they just try to slightly alter the loading pattern which may be enough to reduce your pain. These braces should be fitted by a professional to get the best effect.
Reference: Callaghan M, Parkes M, and Felson D 2016 The Effect of Knee Braces on Quadriceps Strength and Inhibition in Subjects With Patellofemoral Osteoarthritis
Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy