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Knee injuries represent the most common problem facing the sports medicine community. As sports participation continues to increase, so does the likelihood of sustaining a debilitating knee impairment. Thus, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of these injuries are important to both the athlete and the treating physician. Surgery is often a viable option; however, most of these injuries are treated conservatively with rest, therapy, and bracing.

The use of braces in sports medicine has long been surrounded by debate. Does the benefit of a brace justify the potential discomfort and cost? This question must be evaluated in the context of brace use and the desired purpose. Different braces serve different functions. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has defined three categories of knee braces:

  • Rehabilitative braces - postoperative braces designed to allow protected range of motion
  • Functional braces - provide stability to the unstable knee and improve function
  • Prophylactic braces - prevent injury to a normal knee

In addition to the three proposed categories, unloader and patellofemoral braces have become popular in contemporary orthopedics. Unloader (knee osteoarthritis) braces are designed to improve the function in patients with unicompartmental arthritis and supplement other conservative management. This chapter will evaluate the current literature available for braces in each of these categories and clarify their purpose, function, and usefulness.

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