Does Wearing a Knee Brace Weaken the Knee?
In the US alone, an estimated 25% of adults are living with chronic knee pain. Many of these people rely on knee braces to help ease their pain while also boosting their mobility. Now that you have to wear one of these yourself, you may have wondered, "does wearing a knee brace weaken the knee?"
Improper use of or overreliance on a knee brace can cause the affected knee to weaken. Wearing a poor-fitting brace can also result in discomfort and stiffness. However, all these are preventable, so a knee brace shouldn't weaken the knee if worn the right way.
How Does Wearing a Knee Brace Weaken the Knee?
A knee brace itself won't cause your knee to weaken, but its improper use can. For example, if you use it for longer than the recommended period, you may end up favoring the uninjured knee. This, in turn, can lead to the injured knee becoming sedentary and stiff due to non-movement.
This lack of activity may then cause problems, such as loss of strength and weakening.
What Exactly Happens to the Knee if You Brace It for Too Long?
Prolonged and improper use of a knee brace can affect your circulation or blood flow. It can also have negative effects on a bodily process called "imbibition." Wearing a brace for extended but unrecommended periods can also result in stiffness.
However, as mentioned above, all these potential issues are preventable. Some researchers even say that bracing doesn’t weaken the knee in healthy patients. These individuals in good health wear braces as a way to prevent injuries.
Still, it’s best to understand how these problems can occur, though, so that you can prevent them in the first place.
Reduced Circulation or Blood Flow
Each year, doctors attend to some 30 million patients with knee and shoulder injuries. Just like those with chronic knee pain, many of those with knee injuries also wear braces. Their doctors prescribe the use of these devices as part of their treatment and recovery.
One of the reasons doctors prescribe knee braces is to keep an injured knee immobile. Immobilization means to restrict the movement of muscles and other soft tissues. This helps protect the injured knee from sustaining further damage.
Knee braces also provide some level of compression that can help ease swelling. Most health experts recommend compression as part of first-aid treatment to injuries. The goal of proper compression is to minimize blood flow to reduce inflammation.
However, improper use of knee braces can cause an excessive reduction of blood flow. For example, a patient may tighten it too much in the hopes of immobilizing the knee "better." In this case, too little blood can flow into the injured tissues of the knee.
Now, keep in mind that soft tissue injuries still need the oxygen nutrients supplied by the blood. They need enough nourishment so that they can start repairing themselves. However, they won't receive the nutrients they need if you wear a too-tight brace.
The longer this excessive reduction in blood flow occurs, the longer the injury will take to heal. This can then make you feel as if your knee is getting weak. Incorrect use of a knee brace may cause pain in this way, too.
Imbibition refers to the process of "forcing" synovial fluid into joint cartilage. Synovial fluid, in turn, is a thick liquid that carries the nutrients needed by the cartilage. It also lubricates the joints to ensure they keep moving smoothly.
Synovial fluid needs to get "forced" into the joints as they don't receive blood directly.
However, for imbibition to occur, you need to move your joints first. It's only through joint movement that synovial fluid can nourish the joint cartilage. This is why health experts say that people will "lose" their joints if they fail to use it.
As such, if you wear a knee brace beyond the recommended period, you may be at risk of impaired imbibition. This can happen if you get so used to using the brace that you end up using your uninjured knee more. In this case, you may "forget" to move your braced knee, so the joints in it don't get proper nourishment.
Without adequate nutrients, your knee joints may then begin to develop issues. This, in turn, may make you feel as if your knee is getting weaker.
Stiffness and Soreness
In the US alone, half of all adults have a musculoskeletal condition, such as those affecting the knee. Many of these problems result in muscle and joint stiffness and soreness.
In many cases, these symptoms arise from hard physical labor or vigorous exercise. In some patients, stiffness, followed by pain, occurs after periods of inactivity.
If you need a knee brace due to an injury, it's vital to use it per your doctor's instructions. If you use it for longer than what your physician tells you, you run the risk of relying on it too much. Aside from impaired imbibition, lack of movement can make your muscles stiff.
Stiff and sore muscles, in turn, can make it even harder to move. However, the longer you stay inactive, the higher your risks are of remaining in pain. Over time, you may feel as if your knees are becoming less stable and weak.
What Are the Best Practices for Wearing a Knee Brace Then?
A knee brace may not cause a direct weakening of the knee, but you still need to wear it properly. Correct use of braces can help protect your knees, keep it stable, and prevent injuries. An unloader knee brace can even help ease pain and stiffness in people with knee arthritis.
On that note, be sure to master these practices when it comes to knee brace use.
Wearing a knee brace all day often applies only to those who've undergone knee surgery. They usually need to use a post OP knee brace to keep their operated knee as immobile as possible.
You may also have to wear a knee brace for most of the day if you have a severe knee injury. These include torn ligaments or a dislocated knee cap. Within the next few weeks, your doctor will likely tell you to reduce the amount of time you wear the brace each day.
Either way, your doctor should let you know when to wear a knee brace and for how long you should use it. Your physician will give you a specific timeline, such as how many hours a day you can wear the brace. If you have to wear one for several hours, then make sure you use a brace comfortable enough for all-day use.
A perfect fit is essential to proper knee brace usage, as you don't want a too-tight or a too-loose brace. So, it's best to invest in high-quality knee support with adequate adjustability. The materials itself, like its fabric, should also be breathable, comfortable, and soft.
Get Moving as Soon as You Can
Minor knee injuries, such as grade 1 sprains or strains, only need about one to three days of rest. Once the inflammation goes down, your doctor will advise you to start moving your knee again. In this case, you can start stretching and doing low-impact exercises.
Your physician will likely allow you to keep wearing knee support as you start moving again. It's a good idea to wear an adjustable orthopedic knee brace in this case. It can support your knee throughout your recovery, especially against excessive movement.
Be Mindful of "Favoritism"
During the first few days after your injury, avoid putting weight on your affected knee. Rest it as much as you can, and don't forget to ice your knee for the first 24 to 72 hours. All these can help minimize the inflammation and also help the swelling go down faster.
Once the injured knee is no longer swollen, though, it's time to rely less and less on your uninjured knee. Don't keep favoring your "healthy" knee, as this can only cause more problems in the injured one. Even just minor stretches and light movements can help you prevent knee weakness.
Make Your Knee Brace Work for and Not Against You
We hope that this guide has given you all the answers to your question, "Does wearing a knee brace weaken the knee?" So, you now know that the culprit isn't the brace itself, but its improper use. As such, be sure to keep all our tips in mind so that you can reap the beneficial effects of wearing a knee brace.
If you're in need of high-quality knee support made with comfort in mind, PowerRebound can help. We're proud to present our extensive collection of knee braces and supports. Please feel free to send us an email, too, if you have other questions about bracing.