The Use of Prophylactic Bracing In Sports


By Stephen Karam PT, DPT

Unfortunately, knee and ankle injuries have a high incidence rate in both football and basketball.  Physicians, trainers and athletes have tried and are willing to try just about anything to prevent one of these injuries from occurring.

If you have been watching college or professional football over the past 10-15 years, it would be hard not to notice large, bulky knee braces on the entire offensive line.  These large, bulky braces come with a large, bulky price as well and are “supposed” to prevent serious knee injuries from occurring allowing these players to stay on the field.  Some of these injuries include meniscus, MCL, ACL and damage to the articular cartilage of the knee.

So do these expensive, large braces prevent these devastating injuries from occurring? 

In a 2010 issue of the Journal of Sports Health, Salata et al conducted a systematic review of 6 articles that studied the use of knee braces in football and injury prevention.  The systematic review suggests that there may be limited protection of the MCL and that there is no evidence that wearing these prophylactic knee braces prevent injuries to the ACL and meniscus.  One of the articles in this systematic review suggests that wearing these braces may even increase the risk of injury to knees, ankles and feet.  At this time there is not enough significant medical evidence that suggests wearing these knee braces prevents serious injuries from occurring in football. Due to the “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” theory, college and professional budgets allow for any and all measures of prevention to be taken whether or not it has a high value of efficacy.

On a positive note there is significant medical evidence that supports that use of ankle braces in prevention of ankle sprains in basketball.  A 2011 study by the American College of Sports Medicine looked at nearly 1500 male and female basketball players from 46 high schools.  The incidence of ankle injury in the braced group was .47 per 1000 exposures and 1.41 per 1000 exposures in the control group.  Demonstrating a significant difference in those athletes wearing braces and those athletes who were not wearing the provided brace.  The study did note that there was not a significant difference in severity of injuries between the braced and controlled groups.  In contrast to the knee braces these lace up ankle braces are affordable and probably should be considered as a method to prevent ankle injuries.

Please consult your Physical Therapist or Athletic Trainer before purchasing or fitting for one of these prophylactic braces as wearing the wrong size may increase your risk for injury.

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KORT Chevy Chase Clinic Director Stephen Karam PT, DPT, earned his doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Kentucky after completing a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). He specializes in manual therapy with a strong emphasis in orthopedics and sports medicine. In his spare time, he enjoys tennis, working out, music and football. For more information go to:

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