Hinged Knee Brace: How Does It Work?

Hinged Knee Brace: How Does It Work?

It has become very common to see athletes wearing hinged knee braces, whether on the bench recovering from an injury or on the field or court playing in the game. These braces aren’t just for athletes, either. Anyone dealing with chronic knee pain or recovering from surgery can be benefited from the right hinged knee brace. But how does a hinged knee brace help to relieve the pain and protect the knee?

How does a hinged knee brace work? Hinged knee braces exert leverage on different parts of the leg to inhibit certain movements. They stabilize the joint and protect weak or injured parts of the knee. The hinges themselves allow for controlled flexing and extending of the leg. They also make sure that the knee flexes and extends in a perfectly linear motion. This works to remove unwanted stress on injured or weak areas of the joint.

Where that leverage is applied depends on what movements you are trying to limit or what loads you are looking to relieve. Studies have shown that hinged knee braces absorb force and torque during athletic activities, as well as everyday motions. There are various types of hinged knee braces for all types of knee injuries and pain. Knowing what those types are and what they do will help you determine what brace is right for you.

Do I Need A Hinged Knee Brace?

Whether you need a hinged knee brace or not depends on the amount of support that you need for your joint. The more severe the injury or pain, the more support you are likely to need. Knee braces can be classified into three levels of support.

  • Light support: Braces with light support allow your knee to move the most and provide very little added stability. They are typically just straps or sleeves which are used for mild conditions.
  • Moderate support: Braces that moderately control motion around your knee, but still allow for some mobility. They are typically used for more painful injuries and allow for athletic participation. Moderate support braces use hinges, metal stays, and significant strapping.
  • Total support: Total support braces immobilize your knee. They are used immediately after reconstructive surgery. Total support braces use metal stays, significant strapping, and hinges that can unlock to allow mobility as the knee heals.

If you only need light support for your knee, you do not need a hinged knee brace. However, if you require moderate to total support then a hinged knee brace is the right brace for you to avoid further injury and help you to relieve pain.

How Does A Hinged Knee Brace Help?

The three most common hinged knee braces are designed for very specific purposes. Your need for a hinged knee brace will determine how the brace can help with your knee injury or pain. Here are the most common hinged knee braces and how they can help you.

Prophylactic Knee Braces

Prophylactic knee braces are used to prevent knee injuries. They are most often used by athletes in contact sports, like football. They are most valuable in protecting the medial collateral ligament (MCL). They prevent valgus, or side to side, forces on the knee. They do this by applying leverage laterally on the femur and tibia.

Prophylactic knee braces can have unilateral or bilateral hinge systems. The unilateral system has a hinge on only one side of the knee, while the bilateral has two hinges, one on each side. A prophylactic knee brace would be the right brace for you if:

  • You play contact sports
  • You have had an MCL injury in the past
  • You have recently had surgery on your MCL

Functional Knee Braces

Whereas a prophylactic brace is used to prevent future injuries, the functional knee brace is used after an injury has already occurred. Functional knee braces are used to add stability to the knee after an injury or surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

They also provide mild to moderate stability to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) or MCL. They can achieve this by applying leverage to resist abnormal forward translation of the tibia on the femur or preventing the tibia from moving too far past the femur. Functional Knee Braces are bilateral. A functional knee brace would be right for you if:

  • You just had reconstructive surgery on your knee
  • You have injured or torn your ACL
  • Participate in activities that require rapid direction change

Unloader/Offloader Knee Braces

Unloader/Offloader knee braces are used to help people with arthritis in their knees, specifically knee osteoarthritis. They do this by unloading stress from the joint by placing more pressure on the femur. It forces the knee to bend away from the painful area of the joint.

Unloader/Offloader knee braces are unilateral. An unloader/offloader knee brace would be right for you if:

  • You suffer from knee osteoarthritis
  • You are going to have knee surgery and need temporary pain relief

Choosing A High-Quality Hinged Knee Brace

Not every hinged knee brace is right for everyone. There are many factors that you should take into consideration when picking out a hinged knee brace. If you just had reconstructive knee surgery, it is best to stick to your doctor’s recommendation, but if you are off shopping for yourself, here are some things to keep in mind, so you get the highest quality hinged knee brace for you.


This is probably the most important factor for most shoppers, especially if your medical insurance isn’t picking up the bill. It is easy to say that the more expensive the brace, the higher quality, but that is not always the case.

You can find a hinged knee brace that fits both your needs and your wallet. Do not get tricked by high prices. Look for the features you need for your pain or injury and then find the best price. Looking at reviews should help you figure out if that brace is worth the price.


As much as price is the thing, we are all concerned with, comfort is probably the most important thing to look for. You are potentially going to be wearing the brace for hours a day. If it doesn’t feel comfortable, then you are in trouble.

Look at the materials it is made of and if it has the versatility to adjust the straps. Some hinged knee braces even have padded hinges, so the hinges don’t cause any discomfort.


Getting the right size hinged knee brace is not only important to your comfort, but to the stability of your knee as well. It is important that when on, the hinges of the brace are lined up with the femoral condyles of your knee. If not, you are not getting the structural support that the braces should offer and possibly risking further injury.

It is also important that the circumference of the brace be the right size as well. The proper compression is important to stability and pain relief. If the brace is too tight or too loose, you will not feel the benefits a hinged knee brace offers.

If you are not getting the brace sized by a physician, pay attention to the sizes offered by the brace maker. You should also look at sizing charts before purchasing, or you risk severe discomfort or, worse, further injury.


There are a few different styles of hinged knee brace. The kind that is best for you will depend on your injury or where the pain is, and what level of pain you have. The difference in styles has a lot to do with the way that you put the brace on.

  • Sleeve: This just pulls over your knee. It can be tight getting on, so it is a better choice if you are looking to prevent injury and are not in pain. Pulling it over a painful knee will most likely cause more pain.
  • Sleeve with straps: This goes on similar to the sleeve, but they are looser. You pull the brace up over your knee, and when it is in place, you tighten the straps, so the compression is right for your injury or pain.
  • Wrap around: A wrap-around knee brace lays out behind the knee. You then tighten the straps, wrapping the brace around your leg and creating the right compression for your injury or pain. This is a good choice if your injury or pain makes it hard for you to reach your feet. It is also convenient if you want to take it on and off without taking your shoes off.

Another common style that does not have to do with how you put on the brace is an open or closed patella: this effects compression and the ability to air out. Braces can become hot and sweaty; an open patella can help prevent this from happening.

Important Features of High-Quality Hinged Knee Braces

Along with general things to look for in a high-quality hinged knee brace, there are some specific features that an effective hinged knee brace will have. These are the things that you should make sure the knee brace has before you hit purchase.

Thermal Heat Regulation

As mentioned before, knee braces can get hot and sweaty, especially if they are being used for athletic activities. The heat and sweat can lead to moisture build-up, which brings bacteria and bad smells with it. To help with thermal regulation, look for the knee brace to be made with:

  • Neoprene
  • Lycra
  • Meshed or webbed backing
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Open patella


Not only do you want your hinged knee brace to be heat regulated, but you also want it to be lightweight. This will make using the brace during athletic activities that much easier. You should look for many of the same materials that make a brace breathable, like:

  • Neoprene
  • Lycra
  • Meshed or webbed backing


Even with a lightweight heat regulated design, you are going to sweat in and dirty your knee brace. There is no way around it. So, it is important that the brace not only be washable but that it maintains its shape. A high-quality hinged knee brace should be able to take some cycles through the washer and dryer without losing its ability to stabilize your knee.

Sophisticated Compression

The key to a hinged knee brace and the stability it gives is the compression of the brace. Where that compression is placed helps with specific knee issues. A high-quality hinged knee brace will allow you to adjust that compression, so you are getting the most out of the brace.

One important feature to look for when it comes to compression is medical-grade Velcro. Strong Velcro allows for tight adjustable compression. It also ensures that the brace maintains the compression during strenuous activity. This is especially important with prophylactic braces that are used while playing contact sports.


The most important part of a hinged knee brace is the hinges themselves. There are certain traits that you should be looking for in the hinges of your brace if you want a high-quality hinged knee brace. Here are some hinge attributes that you can find in some high-quality braces.

  • Removable hinges: Some high-quality hinged knee braces have hinges that can be removed from the sleeve. This makes the brace more versatile by giving you the option of having the stability of the hinges or of having a wider range of motion if needed.
  • Polycentric hinges: If you are recovering from surgery, you are probably going to want to limit your range of motion. Polycentric hinges will allow you to set how far you can extend and flex your knee until you have recovered properly.
  • Cushioned hinges: Comfort is important, so high-quality hinged knee braces with cushioned braces are important. Hinges may press down on your knee to maintain the needed stability. Cushions will ease some of the pressure and chafing.


Obviously, this isn’t a design feature of the hinged knee brace, but it can be just as important. With comfort and size being crucial to the function of the brace, you want to be able to return the brace if it is not working for you. It is also a very technical piece of equipment, with parts that can easily go bad or not function properly.

You want the maker of a high-quality hinged knee brace to stand behind his work. The best way to have faith in the quality of the brace is with a long, fully covered warranty or return policy.

Benefits of Hinged Knee Brace

There are a wide variety of benefits to getting a hinged knee brace over other types of braces. A hinged brace can be used in many situations and is extremely versatile. It can be an important piece of equipment in preventing injury, relieving pain from an injury, or recovering from an injury.

Preventing an Injury

A hinged knee brace can be beneficial even if you don’t have an injury. A hinged brace offers more stability than a normal sleeve brace, making it useful in contact sports or athletic activities that require you to make quick cuts and sharp moves.

The hinges help stabilize the knee, protecting your ligaments from damage. If you are playing a sport that puts your knee at risk or you feel that you have weakness in your knee’s medial/lateral movement, a hinged knee brace may stop injuries such as ligament tears from occurring.

Helping with Injuries

Here are some of the injuries that can be helped by wearing a hinged knee brace:

  • Ligament injuries: A hinged knee brace is excellent at helping with rotational stability in the knee. This means that it is perfect for helping stabilize knees after doing damage to the ACL, MCL, and LCL. A hinged knee brace can be used after minor damage to a ligament, during recovery of reconstructive surgery on a ligament, or after you have recovered from injury or surgery
  • Cartilage injuries: If you do damage to the cartilage in the knee, such as tearing your meniscus, a hinged knee brace can help you manage the pain. In many cases of a torn meniscus, the knee is swollen and painful and tends to feel like it will give out. A hinged knee brace will help stabilize the joint, so it is less painful and will help it from giving out.
  • Arthritis: Hinged knee braces are perfect for people suffering from knee osteoarthritis. With the right compression, the hinged brace can offload pressure on the joint and give you relief from the pain. There are also cases of arthritis where one side of the knee has become more degenerated than the other. A hinged knee brace can correct the alignment, easing pain, and correcting your gate.
  • Knee fractures: A hinged knee brace, much like with arthritis, can offload pressure on healing bones in the knee. For certain fractures, this brace can have you up and walking while the bone is still healing. By reducing the force on the bone, the brace makes the knee less painful. Common brakes that a hinged knee brace can help you recover from includes tibial plateau fracture and kneecap fracture
  • Patella tendinitis: Tendonitis is an overuse injury usually caused by improper or misaligned rotation, extension, or flexion of the knee. The pain comes because the overuse has made the tendons intolerant of the force on them. A hinged knee brace can readjust the incorrect movements and allow adequate healing to take place.

After Surgery

The polycentric hinge makes a hinged knee brace the perfect brace for recovery from knee surgery. This hinge lets you, or your physician, control the amount of extension or flexion allowed by your surgically repaired knee. As your knee heals, the hinge can be adjusted to allow more movement.

If you have a hinged knee brace with removable hinges, your brace becomes a piece of equipment that you can use for any reason. If you have recovered from your injury and don’t feel you need the extra support of the hinges, yet would still like some support for your knee, you can turn your brace into a normal sleeve brace by taking out the hinges.

The same brace that was essential to your surgery recovery can help support your fully recovered and stable knee.

How to Put on A Hinged Knee Brace

How you put your hinged knee brace on depends on the style of brace that you are using. There are three basic styles of hinged knee braces. How you put them on is similar, but there are differences that make some styles better for certain injuries or types of pain.

Sleeve Braces

These are the most basic style of a hinged knee brace. They are easy to put on but may cause pain issues with certain injuries. They are best used to prevent future injuries than in recovery from an injury. To put a sleeve brace on

  1. With your shoe off and patella opening of brace facing out, pull the sleeve over the foot and up the leg.
  2. Stop when your patella is sticking out of the patella opening, and the hinges are lined up with your femoral condyles.

Sleeved Braces with Straps

These braces are similar to the sleeve braces, except they have Velcro straps to add specific compression to the knee joint and its surrounding areas. They tend to be looser than a normal sleeve brace so you can tighten with the straps, but they go on in the similar way:

  1. With your shoe off and patella opening of brace facing out, pull the sleeve over the foot and up the leg.
  2. Stop when your patella is sticking out of the patella opening, and the hinges are lined up with your femoral condyles.
  3. Pull straps over thigh and lower leg until the brace is tight enough that it will not move or until the right compression is achieved.

Wrap Around Brace

These braces are excellent for injuries where there is still intense pain around the knee, such as post-surgery or arthritis. Unlike the sleeve braces, you do not pull the brace over the potentially painful area. To put a wraparound hinged knee brace on:

  1. Unfold the brace, and align with the back of your leg, behind the knee. The larger flaps go on top, behind your thigh.
  2. Bring flaps over your thigh, so the Velcro holds the brace wrapped around your leg.
  3. Make sure your kneecap is in line with the patella opening and then bring flaps over your shin, closing the brace around your leg.
  4. Run smaller Velcro straps on both top and bottom through openings and pull until desired tightness is reached.

Final Things to Keep In Mind

  1. Sizing is important: if you have any doubts or concerns, have the brace fit by a medical professional. The wrong size brace could potentially do more damage. It may even be beneficial to put the brace on for the first time with your doctor present.
  2. Pay attention to care directions: you do not want to do something to your brace that is going to cause it to not function properly. Know how to care for it and follow all directions closely
  3. Wear the brace as directed: especially if you are coming off of surgery. Wear the brace when you are doing any activities that may cause damage to your knee, but always follow specific doctor’s orders.
  4. Check on skin often: it is possible that the brace will cause redness, dryness, or painful irritation. You may have to wear a bandage over irritated areas or use a topical cream to moisturize. See a physician if irritation keeps up.
  5. Be careful: hinged knee braces do not ensure that your knee will not be injured. They will help prevent injury and decrease pain, but you still need to be careful in situations where your knee can incur more damage.

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