What are Knee Orthotics?

Bill C.

Knee orthotics are devices worn over the knee to help support and control it. They are frequently used to help the knee recover from sprains and muscle stains, torn ligaments, and surgery. People suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis also often use them to relieve knee pain.

A person wearing a knee brace.
A person wearing a knee brace.

Such devices enable people to engage in normal everyday activities by strengthening the knee and making it more stable. Knee orthotics can usually be purchased at a drugstore or retail sporting goods outlet. For more serious injuries, they may need to be custom-fitted.

A human knee.
A human knee.

Most knee orthotics fall into the category of knee braces. They range from simple elastic or rubber compound sleeves fitting over the knee to complex devices with supporting metal bars and hinges to give the knee maximum protection and flexibility. For minor injuries, simple braces may only have to be worn for a few days. For more serious conditions resulting from accidents or sports injuries, they may have to be worn for up to six weeks. Those suffering from extremely severe or long-term ailments may need to use them daily for indefinite periods of time.

A person with a swollen knee.
A person with a swollen knee.

Simple knee orthotics, which are supports made of neoprene, may provide support and protection enough for minor muscle injuries and mild tendon damage. For knee joint pain or injury, a support that stabilizes the patella, or knee cap, is generally used. It typically has padding around the knee cap and some type of support for both sides of the knee.

Devices become increasingly elaborate for treatment of more serious injuries. Stabilized knee supports are used to treat conditions like minor cartilage tears and pain in the knee cap. They sometimes are also used for low-level damage to the four major knee ligaments: the medial collateral ligament (MCL); the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL); the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the one most susceptible to sports injuries; and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). Stabilized supports are also often worn after an injury has healed to protect against re-injury.

The most serious type of knee injuries normally require hinged knee braces that include strong metal supports on both sides of the knee. They are typically used to help recover from surgery and for major injuries to the MCL and LCL, serious cartilage tears, and ruptures of the ACL and PCL. In addition to providing support and stabilization, these knee orthotics also give the knee a wide range of motion and are designed to ensure that the knee cannot be hyper-extended.

A man with knee pain.
A man with knee pain.

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