A leg brace is an orthopaedic device designed to support and aid movement to an injured or weakened leg. Leg braces can be useful for chronic conditions, acute injury and injury prevention. Leg braces are a non-surgical, removable and relatively low-cost treatment for many joint and muscular conditions.
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians, leg braces are recommended for many conditions, including osteoarthritis of the knee, anterior knee pain, acute knee injuries, acute ankle sprains and prevention of recurrent leg or knee injuries.
The purpose of a leg brace is to immobilise an unstable joint or fracture, diminish pain, improve physical function and slow disease progression. In some instances, patients who cannot undergo surgery use a brace as a long-term alternative. According to the Mayo Clinic, braces are not a replacement for physiotherapy but should be used in conjunction with other treatments for best results.
Knee braces come in a wide variety of models designed to address specific malformations, injuries and types of pain. A Chochrane systematic review of clinical studies identified only one randomised controlled trial of knee bracing for osteoarthritis patients. The results were inconclusive. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends braces for osteoarthritis of the knee.
Complete immobilisation of the knee for extended periods is not recommended, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Extended immobilisation can result in stiffness of the joint, muscle atrophy and chronic pain. However, for certain conditions such as with patellar tendon rupture, knee dislocation, quadriceps rupture or patellar fracture, complete immobilisation is necessary.
According to the Mayo Clinic, risks of a traditional (non-immobilising) leg brace include: difficulty adjusting to the brace, skin irritation and a lack of evidence for the efficacy of leg braces for some conditions. Many doctors will make decisions about the need for leg braces on an individual basis.
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