One of the most common questions I receive from patients with knee pain is, "Do I need a knee brace?" There is some controversy about the use of knee braces or other supports for orthopedic injuries. Whenever you brace and immobilize the knee, the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the knee don't have to do their jobs. Essentially, the thought is that those supporting structures of the knee are forced into disuse, and this weakens those structures and can create more problems with the knee.
That being said, a knee brace that is used for a specific problem or during a specific activity may be helpful. For example, if you suffer a fracture, the knee must be immobilized for the fracture to properly set. A cast may be used for this immobilization, but occasionally a brace is used. Braces may also be used after knee surgery to help control motion while healing occurs.
If you suffer frequent or episodic patella dislocations or subluxations, you may need a patella motion control brace to help keep the kneecap in place. It is usually recommended that this brace be used for specific activities and not worn throughout the day.
Again, the idea is to help support the knee during specific activities without creating disuse atrophy of the supporting structures.
If you have knee pain, ask your physical therapist if a brace is the right device for you. He or she can help decide which brace to use and help determine when the brace should be worn.