ACL Knee Braces
By Sonya Thigpen
ACL Knee Braces
What is an ACL Tear?
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four main ligaments in the knee that help to stabilize the knee. The ACL helps to prevent forward movement of the tibia (shin bone) and the femur (thigh bone). It also prevents hyperextension of the knee joint.
What causes an ACL Tear?
An injury to the ACL can cause a partial tear or a complete tear of the ligament and mostly occur with non-contact motions: a sudden change in direction where one plants and twists the knee or with an abrupt deceleration, where one slows down suddenly. ACL injuries are common among athletes, especially those who play sports that involve sudden stops, changes in direction, jumping and landing-such as basketball, football, soccer and skiing.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of an ACL tear?
Many people hear or feel a “pop” in the knee when an ACL tear occurs. They might also complain that their knee “gave way”. Signs and symptoms of an ACL tear can also include rapid swelling, loss of range of motion, severe pain and the inability to return to play/activity.
What is the Treatment for an ACL Tear?
Depending on the severity of the ACL tear, treatment may include rest, physical therapy or surgery to reconstruct the torn ligament followed by physical therapy. Physical therapy without surgery works to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee to help regain stability to compensate for the absent or weakened ACL. Surgery involves reconstructing the ACL ligament using tissues from either a tissue bank (allograft) or from one’s body (autograft)-typically the patella tendon or the hamstring tendon. After surgery, one will begin outpatient physical therapy to increase range of motion, strength and stability of the knee joint. Return the knee to its pre-injury condition for return sport or an active lifestyle typically occurs 6 months to a year after surgery.
Is there bracing available?
Regardless of which recovery pathway the patient and doctor choose, it is highly likely that a functional ACL brace will be prescribed. Functional ACL braces are designed to improve the stability of the knee as well to prevent the knee from hyperextending which can often cause an ACL injury. The functional ACL braces available are generally made from lightweight materials and feature straps at the back of the knee as well as both medial (inside) and lateral (outside) hinges to prevent the tibia (shin bone) from extending too far relative to the femur (thigh bone). Functional ACL braces also are designed with buttresses, often times adjustable, to further aid in knee stability while playing sports or recovering from an ACL injury.
How to Choose the Right ACL Brace
There are several types and brands of functional ACL braces available, both off the shelf (standard size fit) or custom (specifically designed based on the patient’s measurements). Most are covered by insurance with a physician’s prescription, and if not there are usually options for a self-pay rate. It is best to discuss one’s options with the physician or physical therapist prior to making the choice independently to help find the one that will fit the patient’s activities and level of support desired.