Them Mighty Knees (with Their Protective Knee Braces)

By: Charlie Cory

As major joints go, the knee is quite an impressive article, and it is obviously important for keeping us all on the go - be it on two or four legs! It is a complicated mixture of ligaments, tendons and bones allowing, not only the hinge movement, but also some degree of rotational movement as well. Therefore the knee has four major ligaments that are involved in the complicated process of keeping the knee stable; and us humans mobile. It's generally the ligaments that are most at risk. Most will probably not give the knee a moments thought, until it starts to give us gyp! Then maybe a little painkiller; more seriously, an operation and a lengthy recovery period; or perhaps the all important knee brace! This is an area which is almost as complicated as the knee itself, and the knee brace certainly provokes a lot of debate in medical and physio circles: a serious injury to a top athlete's knees might be considered newsworthy stuff! After all Beckham and Rooney only broke toe bones. The world may very well have come to an end if it had been the knee that was the problem.

So knee braces: what is it all about? Are we talking some simple bandage-like construction? Actually no! Knee braces come in two basic types, which provide very different forms of assistance: the functional knee brace, whose purpose is to support the knee once damage has already occurred; and the prophylactic knee brace, whose more controversial aim is to actually prevent the damage in the first.

The functional knee brace has been used to allow movement and to support damaged and torn ligaments. Whilst several studies appear to have been carried out on the usefulness of functional knee braces, these studies have only been done on the effects of low, not high, impact sports. For this the evidence is less clear. The advice: consult a doctor of physio, as the efficacy is usually dependent on the type of ligament injury sustained. This is great for Granny and the twisted knee; not so great for the Olympic challenger.

However, it would be much more useful to prevent this sort of trouble before it starts, and the prophylactic knee brace is designed to give support to the most commonly injured ligament, thus preventing a costly and time consuming operation. Its use as a preventative measure came into being through American football players in the NFL in the 1970s, and has shown some degree of protection in certain forms of ligament damage. And it's not just athletes who have espoused the benefits of this device: those involved in high level motor bike sports have also argued for its use as part of the standard protective gear.

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