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You needn’t look much further than extreme sports to see that our bodies are capable of some amazing things. But if not properly prepared, a sporting injury can take us out of the game.
Sports-related injuries account for nearly half of all ligament injuries, the most common of which is a disruption to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee. So it’s no wonder many of us Google the phrase “should I wear an ACL knee brace for sports?”
The Perceived Benefits of an ACL Brace for Sports
Even though product brands are quick to promote the benefits of wearing an ACL knee brace for sports (no surprise there), the answer, based on further review, is a little more complicated. So let’s try to clear some things up so you can get yourself back on form.
The ACL is one of the main ligaments of the knee that connects the thigh bone to the shinbone via a robust band of tissue designed to stabilize the knee and allow for the back and forth motion of the leg. It takes a severe twist of the knee to damage this ligament, which is why ACL injury is more common in high-intensity sports including soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, tennis, hockey, downhill skiing, and gymnastics.
Specifically, an ACL injury occurs due to direct collision (i.e. football tackle) or ‘non-contact’ manoeuvring such as slowing down quickly and changing direction (known as ‘cutting’), landing a jump incorrectly, stopping suddenly or pivoting with your foot planted firmly on the ground. It is associated with an audible “pop” or “popping” sensation in the knee, followed by pain, swelling, loss of range of motion, and inability to carry your weight.
ACL Brace for Sports Following Injury
Following an ACL injury, you could be out of the game for up to 9 months and may even require surgical reconstruction. It is reasonable then to consider wearing an ACL knee brace for sports to protect against injury and avoid impacting your athletic career. Research, however, suggests that forces high enough to disrupt a fully functioning or even reconstructed ACL would not be adequately absorbed by a knee brace. Instead, a proper training and exercise program is recommended to reduce the risk of future injury.
But do not despair; the use of an ACL knee brace for sports does have its merits. Instead they are considered a better fit for those returning to sports following an injury or surgical reconstruction because they provide comfort and support where the ACL is insufficient.
In particular, an ACL knee brace is designed to stabilize the knee and allow for the natural movement of the joint while also reducing inflammation and pain via compression, thereby facilitating the healing process. Advised to be used in the short-term, an ACL knee brace will help to get you back on your feet as part of an extended rehabilitation program. Generally, a stiff brace is recommended for knee ligament damage, complete with hinges, straps and/or patella tracker, depending on the severity of the injury and level of support required.
Studies have shown, however, that the benefit of using a knee brace to enhance recovery is highly subjective, with different people reporting various levels of improvement despite, often negligible, measured performance.
Mental Relief as Opposed to Physical?
This is why it is often argued that the use of an ACL knee brace, as with many other supportive devices, benefits our state of mind more than the physical ailment directly. A brace has the power to restore confidence in a bid to get us back in the game, and, for the most part – provided it’s not overused (which could lead to the overall deterioration of the knee) – wearing an ACL knee brace for sports should not cause any harm.
It is, though, given the multitude of options out there, recommended that a medical professional prescribe the right type and design for you and your specific condition. And as long as you do not let impatience and a false sense of security (often developed when using a supportive device) lead you to a premature return to sports, you will get yourself back in the game, with a head start.