I often see runners, sports players and gym enthusiasts wearing a knee brace/support every time they play or lift weights. Even in the clinic, there are many athletes who ask me if it is okay to continue to play and workout with a knee brace. My answer to them is simple. If it is painful enough to wear knee support then you should be taking a break; and if you are wearing it only to prevent pain, trust me it won’t work – you might be actually weakening muscles that in turn prolongs the injury and pain!
Of course, I am not averse to knee supports. If the pain is intense and acute enough and recommended by a doctor, you must wear it. But this has to be for a short time and along with rest. If you continue to use the knee support longer than the doctor recommended and you decide to wear it even while working out or playing, you are setting yourself up for future injuries. If you keep using it, eventually it becomes a “crutch”; you might become fearful of being active without the brace; you might become dependent on it. So, the sooner you can get rid of it and allow your muscles to do their job, the better.
The knee is a connecting joint between the ankles and the hips. The knee is generally never the first cause of pain unless it is due to advanced aging, degeneration, osteoarthritis or a ligament injury. Most commonly due to repeated ankle injuries or hip weaknesses the loading on the knees increases. This leads to the inability of the knee musculature to cope while you are working out or playing. Wearing a brace compresses the joint for gaining stability but it also affects the functions of the muscles around the knee. Strengthening the weak muscles and identifying the problems is the key to prevent knee pains and to reduce the use of knee brace.
Your lower extremity aka your leg – from the hip to your feet has to work in coordination in order to be injury-free. If there is a muscular imbalance such as tightness due to inadequate active recovery or muscular weakness due to inadequate strength training, the forces on the knee joint increase leading to pain and injury. Even a malalignment in feet such as a high arch or a flat foot can contribute to knee pain. Hence, understanding the cause of pain and treating the knee accordingly is important rather than just wearing knee support and hoping for the best.
Bracing for any joint for the long term is anyway not a good idea because it takes away the normal functioning of the joint. Internally fixing the pain by working on the muscular imbalances and malalignment issues is an ideal solution rather than to opt for externally providing support with the brace. If the pain is chronic and bracing is long term, hip, knees, back, and ankle, everything has to be checked rather than continuing to run with the brace as the wear and tear will keep happening under the brace and you wouldn’t even come to know. Work on the muscles and the cause rather than the symptoms for optimal results.
So free yourself from the “crutch”. Be active without becoming dependent on the knee support and achieve all your fitness goals.