Preventing knee and ankle injuries is simple--never leave your armchair. For most of us, that's not an option, nor is it good for our health. But you can stay active and protect yourself with a few precautions. Modern braces provide an impressive amount of lightweight support.
Determine what type of brace you need. The following can be purchased at sporting goods stores, orthopedic supply houses and drugstores.
Knee braces provide lateral support while allowing full flexion and extension. They also protect against hyperextension, which is a common cause of major knee ligament injuries. Those with a hole for the kneecap can supply some pain relief. Hinged neoprene braces ($100 to $300) with extension stops offer compression and are best for protecting previously injured knees. Knee straps ($20 and up) relieve pain and pressure caused by an irritated kneecap by helping the kneecap track correctly.
The best types of braces for stabilizing the ankle provide good lateral support. Most sports ankle injuries occur when the ankle is rolled inward. Lace-up ankle supports slip on like a sock with laces to provide rigid side-to-side support while allowing freedom of motion. The Aircast brace is a rigid, plastic ankle brace with air-filled bladders that can be adjusted to provide varying degrees of support. The sport version (under $50) has a figure- 8-type elastic that wraps around the ankle and is designed to fit into sports shoes and provide excellent support and free range of motion.
Get a custom-built brace. Usually requiring a referral from an orthopedist, these braces are given to postoperative or injured patients. Using a plaster mold of your knee or ankle, a rigid brace is constructed allowing the maximum safe range of motion while preventing unwanted lateral movement. It is covered by some health-insurance plans and must be fitted by a physician.
Tips & Warnings
- By itself, a brace is a secondbest solution. The best idea is to strengthen the problem area through appropriate exercises, which in the long run may eliminate the need for a brace entirely.
- Be sure to see your doctor about any injuries.
- Verify that your sport allows participants to wear braces. Some sports do not allow certain kinds of braces.