By Marty Travis, MS, ATC
It’s fall football season. As usual, coaches, players, and parents are asking about prophylactic knee braces as soon as the first knee injury occurs. There is just no clear answer. Some studies have shown some decrease of MCL injuries on teams using the braces, while other studies have actually shown an increase of MCL injuries when braces are used. Still other studies have shown no significant changes on teams using the braces.
I used to be an advocate of braces early in my career during the 1980s and 1990s, not because of research studies but because the late, great Dr. Bob McDavid was one of my early mentors. He had one of the first patents for prophylactic lateral knee braces/guards. He also had patented many other types of sports medicine equipment. The college football teams that I covered all provided McDavid knee guards to defensive and offensive linemen. The teams had fairly low rate of MCL injuries to the linemen, but this was just a casual observation. I did not conduct any official research studies.
Today I discuss the facts with coaches, parents, and players and let them develop their own feelings on braces. Skill players were always against using braces because they thought they slowed them down, but big linemen seem to lean toward using braces. A big factor in determining whether or not to use braces is financial. The cost can range from $50 for an off-the-shelf brace from a sporting goods shop to $900 for a custom-fitted brace.
Right now I am neutral about using the prophylactic braces for a healthy knee. I recommend parents and athletes read the position statement by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons on knee bracing to help them decide.