How to Properly Wear Your Knee Brace After Surgery (2023)

How you put a knee brace on depends on the type of brace and the reason you need it. A knee brace stabilizes the joint and relieves pain from knee injuries, osteoarthritis, and surgery.

Some knee braces are designed so that you open up the brace and wrap it around your leg. Braces that do not open are put on over your foot and then pulled up to your knee. A knee brace is typically worn under your clothes against the skin.

If worn as directed, a properly fitting knee brace will stay in place to provide the support you need. A poor-fitting or improperly positioned knee brace can be uncomfortable.

This article describes how to put on a knee brace. It also explains different types of knee braces, why you may need one, and how to ensure your knee brace fits correctly.

How to Properly Wear Your Knee Brace After Surgery (1)

How to Wear Different Kinds of Knee Braces

Wearing a knee brace is often part of knee rehabilitation protocol after injury or surgery. How you put on a knee brace depends on the design.

Knee Sleeves

Compression-sleeve style braces are the most common type of knee support. Though not technically a brace, a knee sleeve provides compression. It holds the patella (knee cap) in place, which helps control pain and inflammation.

A knee sleeve is typically worn during physical activity to support a weak knee. To put on a knee sleeve, slip it on over your foot and slide it up over your leg, so your knee is centered in the sleeve.

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A knee sleeve should fit snugly. It should not be loose, baggy, or slide down your leg. It should also not be so tight that it pinches or slows circulation. If you experience numbness or tingling below your knee, the sleeve should be loosened.

Soft-Hinged Knee Brace

For people who need more support than a sleeve, a soft-hinged knee brace may help. These have an open hole cut out for your knee and are used to treat osteoarthritis and knee instability.

Soft-hinged knee braces can be put on over your foot, like a compression sleeve. Some types have a self-fastening wrap design. Your physical therapist will show you how to put on the knee brace so your knee cap is centered in the cut out.

A soft-hinged brace is typically worn while playing sports or performing physical labor to support the knee. It may also be worn at rest to relieve pain and swelling during a flare up.

Rigid-Hinged Brace

A rigid-hinged brace is used to support mild to moderate ligament injuries or instabilities, meniscus injuries, sprains, and osteoarthritis.Hinged braces come in a wrap design with self-fastening straps above and below the knee.

To put a hinged brace on:

  1. Sit down with your leg out straight in front of you.
  2. Make sure your knee is centered in the brace.
  3. Wrap it around your knee and secure it with the straps.

It should be snug, so it does not slip, but not so tight it hurts.

Your healthcare provider will let you know when and how to wear a rigid-hinged brace.

Unloader Knee Brace

An unloader knee brace is used to manage osteoarthritis that affects one side of the knee joint. It is designed to shift the pressure from the damaged side to the other side of the knee.

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Unloader knee braces can be custom-fit or custom-made and are more expensive than rigid-hinged braces. They have multiple self-adhering straps and can be adjusted for an ideal fit.

To put on an unloader knee brace:

  1. Sit down and step through the brace.
  2. Bend your knee and align the hinge with the joint.
  3. Secure the bottom strap first so it is snug but does not cut off circulation.
  4. Secure the top strap around the thigh.
  5. Secure the strap just below the knee, then the remaining straps.

An unloader brace is typically worn during activities or when you are doing a lot of walking, but removed at rest. Your healthcare provider will let know when you should wear an unloader brace.

Full-Leg Knee Immobilizer

An immobilizer knee brace is a type of air cast used after an injury or surgery. It immobilizes the joint to help your knee, muscles, or tendons heal.

A full-leg knee immobilizer can be worn over your pants or directly on your skin.

To put on a full-leg knee immobilizer:

  1. Sit down with your leg straight.
  2. Slide the brace under your leg so your leg is centered in the brace.
  3. Close the brace around the leg.
  4. Secure the straps starting from the bottom and working your way up to the top.

It should fit snugly so it doesn't slide down, but not so snug it pinches your skin.

Your healthcare provider will tell you when you should wear a knee immobilizer. It may or may not be needed when you sleep.

When to Wear a Knee Brace

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How to Find the Right Size Knee Brace

Knee braces that are sold at drug stores and online come in different sizes. To ensure the correct sizing, use a tape measure to measure the girth of your knee at the joint line. Then check the product's sizing chart.

Everyone is a little different, so be sure to try the brace on. To ensure your knee brace fits properly, try the "two-finger" method.

The Two-Finger Test

Follow these steps to check the fit of your knee brace:

  1. Put your brace on and fasten the straps.
  2. Slide two fingers under a strap.
  3. If your two fingers cannot fit under the strap, then it may be too tight; loosen the strap a bit and repeat the test.
  4. If your two fingers slide easily under the strap and you can fit a third finger under the strap, then perhaps the strap is too loose. Tighten it up a bit and repeat the test.
  5. Repeat the two-fingertest for every strap on your brace.

When you ensure that every strap is fitted properly, walk around a bit and see how the knee brace feels. If it slides down your knee, it is too loose; tighten the straps and try the two-fingertest again.

Be sure to check with your healthcare provider or physical therapist if you have any questions or concerns regarding your knee brace. They can help you use the right knee brace and make sure that your knee brace is fitted properly.

(Video) Should you wear a knee brace after meniscus surgery?

Is Your Brace Fitting Properly?

An improperly fit brace may not support your knee properly and may cause additional pain. Signs of a poorly fit knee brace include:

  • Discoloration
  • Increased pain
  • Increased swelling
  • Numbness or tingling

A loose brace will not provide adequate support for your knee. If the brace slides down your leg, it is too loose and could potentially create a tripping hazard if it slides down too low.

A brace that is too tight may also create problems for you. It may cut off circulation to your leg or it may pinch nerves in your leg. This could lead to discoloration, swelling, or numbness and tingling in your leg.

Loosen the straps and repeat the two-finger test.

If you experience increased pain or swelling in the joint when using a knee brace, tell your healthcare provider.

How to Clean A Knee Brace

Knee braces should be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check the label for washing instructions.

Knee sleeves and soft-hinged braces can often be washed by hand or or in the washing machine with a mild detergent. Depending on the material, you may be able to dry it on gentle cycle or it may need to air dry. Check the label for washing instructions.

Rigid-hinged braces, unloader braces, and full-leg immobilizers can be wiped down with a wash cloth and mild, soapy water. If the brace has removable pads, hand-wash with a mild detergent. Be sure to thoroughly rinse out any soapy water before air drying.

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Allow the brace to dry thoroughly before putting it back on. A damp brace can be uncomfortable and may cause skin irritation.

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How do you wear a knee brace after surgery? ›

Start wrapping the foam wrap around the leg with the wraps closest of the knee. The hinges should be positioned slightly above the middle of the kneecap and towards the back of the knee on the sides. Secure and fasten the two strap closest of the knee first, then secure and fasten the remaining two straps.

How tight should my knee brace be after surgery? ›

A brace that is too tight may cut off circulation or pinch on nerves leading to increased swelling, discoloration, or numbness and tingling in your leg. To ensure a proper fit, be sure to slide two fingers under each strap. Your fingers should be able fit under the strap, but not too easily.

Is my knee brace on correctly? ›

Centre the brace on your kneecap.

Most braces will have a small hole in the front to indicate which way they should go on. If the kneecap is visible though this hole, the brace is being worn correctly. This will offer the greatest comfort and keep the skin ventilated underneath the brace.

Do you have to sleep with knee brace after surgery? ›

You need to sleep with your brace locked in extension for the first two weeks. You will discontinue the brace once you have full ROM and good quadriceps control. This usually occurs between 4 and 6 weeks post-op.

Do you wear a knee brace over or under pants? ›

Suffering or recovering from a knee injury can bring its own unique challenges, like learning to wear a knee brace with pants. You should generally wear a knee brace directly against your skin, as wearing on the outside of pants can push the brace down the leg, causing it to be in the wrong position.

Do you wear a knee brace over or under jeans? ›

PRO TIP: Don't wear most knee braces over loose pants

If you wear functional knee braces or post op knee braces over your pants and bend your knee, the pants will pull the brace down. If you have a cotton-lycra knee sleeve or tight leggings that are not slippery, you can wear your functional knee brace over your pants.

How many hours a day should you wear a knee brace? ›

If your orthopedist recommends it, you can wear your brace all day. However, improper use of a knee brace can worsen your pain or cause further damage to the knee. If you are using a brace that immobilizes your knee, the joint can weaken.

Should I force my knee to bend after surgery? ›

Bending and straightening the knees becomes reduced over time. The goal after knee replacement is to get the knee to at least 120 degrees of flexion or bending motion. You need at least 110 degrees to enter and exit a car and most people need 110 to 120 degrees to ride a bike.

Should you bend your knee after knee surgery? ›

One to three weeks after surgery

Typically, you'll be able to bend your knees at a 90 degree angle, fully straighten your knee, and walk for at least 10 consecutive minutes during this stage of physical therapy. You can expect to use assistive devices like walkers, crutches or canes during this phase of recovery.

Is it OK to sleep with a knee brace on? ›

But, should you sleep in knee brace? It is sometimes recommended that you take a knee brace off while sleeping to give your leg a break. However, your doctor might instruct you to wear your knee brace while in bed depending on your post-operative care.

How tight should a knee brace fit? ›

Slide two fingers under the strap. If those two fingers cannot fit under the strap, the brace is too tight. Loosen the strap slightly and repeat the test again. If you can slide two fingers under the strap and actually have room to wiggle a third finger in there, then the brace is too loose.

How tight should a compression knee brace be? ›

Compression knee sleeves should not be loose or baggy, in fact, a snug fit is exactly what you're looking for so that you can get the right support. The knee sleeve should not be so tight that it cuts off flow or feel like it's pinching your knee/skin.

Is it bad to sleep on your side after knee surgery? ›

Can you sleep on your side after knee replacement surgery? You can, but it's wise not to do so until at least a few weeks after surgery, when you can start bending your knee. Make sure you lay on your non-operative side. Sleeping this way makes sure no pressure falls on the knee you had surgery on.

What is the best position to sleep in after knee surgery? ›

The best sleeping position just after your surgery is sleeping on your back. You should make sure that your operative leg stays as straight as possible to avoid hypertension of the knee and keep proper blood flow to the surgery site. If you are sleeping on your back, put the pillow under your calf and knee.

Should you sleep in a recliner after knee surgery? ›

Recliners and sofas are not recommended after your knee or hip replacement because they are not supportive, difficult to get out of and can limit range of motion. Straight back chairs with arm rests are suggested for safety.

What can I wear under my knee brace? ›

Tightly-woven fabrics tend to be less breathable, while open knits offer more breathability. Thinner materials, like those made of lightweight cotton, can also help reduce sweating. These are also comfortable in the heat, making them an ideal choice if you want to wear a knee brace over them.

Why is my lower leg swelling after wearing a knee brace? ›

A brace that is too tight may also create problems for you. It may cut off circulation to your leg or it may pinch nerves in your leg. This could lead to discoloration, swelling, or numbness and tingling in your leg.

How do you keep a knee brace from slipping down? ›

A layer worn under your knee brace can help prevent the brace from slipping and sliding down your leg. To keep the brace in place, try wrapping the areas under straps with a compression bandage. This can help keep the brace from sliding and reduce friction on your skin.

How do I keep my knee brace from sliding down my jeans? ›

One video blogger suggests using sticky-back, hook velcro and attaching a thin rubber material to the back of it. The velcro part can then be attached to the inside of the knee brace, while the rubber will have more grasp on your pants or skin, preventing the brace from migrating.

Will Medicare pay for a knee brace? ›

If your doctor recommends a knee brace, your Medicare coverage may help pay for some of your costs. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) will cover medically necessary knee braces under its durable medical equipment (DME) benefit.

When should you not wear a knee brace? ›

Typically, a complex knee brace is worn for the first year. After that, a brace usually isn't needed for low-level activities. Keep in mind it can take up to two years to return to baseline stability. Once you're returned to full function, you can stop wearing a brace.

Is it OK to wear a knee sleeve all day? ›

Can you wear knee sleeves all day? A person should only wear a knee sleeve when they need extra knee support for physical activity. An individual may be at risk of developing issues with the knee joint if they wear a knee compression sleeve that restricts their movement for long periods.

What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee support? ›

Knee supports tend to be discrete and can comfortably be worn under clothes. Knee braces on the other hand tend to be more mechanical in nature. They help stabilise the knee joint and protect the knee from any more injuries. There are a wide range of knee braces, all catering to different conditions that you may have.

Can you elevate too much after knee surgery? ›

Yes, it is possible to elevate an injury too much. Elevation is a technique commonly used to treat many musculoskeletal injuries ranging from foot fractures to tendinitis in your knees. Elevating injuries in your legs or arms can encourage blood flow to inflamed tissue and reduce swelling.

Why can't I bend my knee all the way after surgery? ›

Causes of Joint Stiffness from Knee Replacement Surgery

Knee stiffness and pain that can occur after a knee replacement may be because of scar tissue and collagen attaching to the knee implant. This is called arthrofibrosis, and it is your immune system's reaction to the new “invader” in your knee.

How many days should you ice after surgery? ›

The inflammatory process is most active in the first 24 hours after a surgery, persisting for up to 2 weeks. We recommend that you continue the aforementioned icing routine for the first 2 weeks after your surgery. This is a very effective way to maximize your healing environment.

What is the fastest way to recover from knee surgery? ›

5 Tips to Speed Up Recovery After Knee Surgery
  1. Follow All Physician Recommendations. You should always heed all of your surgeon's instructions and advice. ...
  2. Walk Frequently Once You're Allowed. ...
  3. Eat Healthy Foods. ...
  4. Get Plenty of Sleep. ...
  5. Do Physical and Occupational Therapy Exercises.
Jun 26, 2019

Should I sleep with my leg elevated after knee surgery? ›

Elevating your knee for short periods of time can help with swelling, but shouldn't be done for sleeping. Two pillows, or a wedge-shaped foam block, will under your calf will often provide an elevated position for the knee. Raising your leg above your heart while lying on you back will aid in swelling.

When should I start moving my knee after surgery? ›

Most people are able to walk independently with sticks after about a week. During your stay in hospital, a physiotherapist will teach you exercises to help strengthen your knee. You can usually begin these the day after your operation.

Is it bad to wear a knee brace too much? ›

If a brace is worn too long, that can cause muscle weakening (atrophy) and de-conditioning of the surrounding ligaments, joints, and muscles; especially if daily exercises to strengthen the area are not done.

Can you walk around in a knee brace? ›

After your knee brace fitting

Some people wear their knee braces only during continuous activity, such as walking or playing certain sports. Other people find it helpful to wear the brace most of the day.

Can I sleep sideways after ACL surgery? ›

You can sleep on your back or side. Do not rest your knee with a pillow/towel under. It is very important to keep your knee straight. You will need a walking aid after your operation as you are likely to have a reduced weight-bearing (partial weight-bearing) capacity through your operated leg for two weeks.

How can I make my knee braces more comfortable? ›

11 Tips for Wearing a Brace Comfortably at Work
  1. Choose Your Brace Carefully. ...
  2. Start with Clean, Dry Skin Without Lotion. ...
  3. Wear Cotton Fabric Between Your Skin and the Brace. ...
  4. Wear Loose Clothing Over the Brace. ...
  5. Judge Tightness with the Two-Finger Fitting Method. ...
  6. Take Off the Brace for Air Twice a Day.
Feb 11, 2020

How long is bed rest after knee surgery? ›

TKA patients begin rehabilitation during the seven-day bedrest period, with the goals of decreasing swelling, increasing ROM, promoting normal leg control and promoting normal gait with an assistive device.

What are the must haves after knee surgery? ›

A cane, crutches, or a walker. A reacher to help you pick up things from the floor, put on your pants, and take off your socks. A sock aid to help you put on your socks. Handle bars in the bathroom to allow you to steady yourself.

What is the best position for your leg after knee surgery? ›

1. Keep your knee straight. It's tempting to sit back and prop your leg on a pillow after knee surgery, but you should keep the joint completely straight after your procedure. To support the healing process, keep your leg and foot pointing straight ahead whenever you lie down or sit.

How often should you elevate your knee after knee surgery? ›

To minimize the swelling in your leg, you need to elevate your operative leg above the level of your heart. This should be done at least three times per day for 30 minutes each time. Place your leg on the top of several pillows while you lie on your back.

Do you sleep a lot after knee surgery? ›

Postoperative pain is common after surgery and can cause fatigue through its effects on sleep and mood. Pain has negative effects on sleep quality, duration, and nighttime awakenings. Poor quality restless sleep results in increased daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

What is the best painkiller after a knee replacement? ›

Acetaminophen: Normal Tylenol taken at doses recommended by your doctor can help with pain relief and have a much lower risk of future addiction. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are a great option for non-narcotic pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

When can I stop elevating my knee after surgery? ›

Elevate leg

Prop your leg on cushions or pillows so your knee is at least 12 inches above your heart for the first three to five days after surgery.

What time of year is best for knee replacement? ›

Many patients ask this question when considering TKR and the consensus is that the spring and early fall are the best seasons. You'll want to wear as little clothing as possible during your recovery because it makes cleaning the wound and moving around easier.

How tight should a knee brace feel? ›

It should fit snugly so it doesn't slide down, but not so snug it pinches your skin. Your healthcare provider will tell you when you should wear a knee immobilizer. It may or may not be needed when you sleep.

Is it normal for your knee to feel tight after knee surgery? ›

This is normal during the early stages of recovery, as the knee experiences swelling which causes temporary stiffness. This should begin to subside within the first month or so after the operation; if it continues to feel stiff or if the stiffness gets worse, contact your surgeon.

Why does my knee still hurt with a brace? ›

Knee braces may cause pain or further injury to the knee if they are not worn properly. If your doctor recommends a knee brace, be sure to check its fit and placement regularly after you put it on. A knee brace is not a substitute for professional medical care.

Should a knee brace be tight or loose? ›

Slide two fingers under the strap. If those two fingers cannot fit under the strap, the brace is too tight. Loosen the strap slightly and repeat the test again. If you can slide two fingers under the strap and actually have room to wiggle a third finger in there, then the brace is too loose.

Is a knee brace supposed to be uncomfortable? ›

Risks of wearing a knee brace might include: Discomfort wearing the brace. A knee brace can feel heavy, bulky and hot at first. Poor fit can cause it to slip.

Can knee sleeves cause blood clots? ›

Venous compression is a rare but accepted cause of Deep Venous Thrombosis. We report a case of DVT caused by extrinsic compression of the popliteal vein by constricting elasticated knee pads.

Is it OK to wear a knee compression all day? ›

Knee compression sleeves are not suitable for constant use. Instead, they are for wearing during physical activity, when people may need extra knee support. They can provide stability to the knee during exercise or prevent post-workout soreness and pain.

Is it OK to sleep with knee compression? ›

can you wear knee sleeves to bed? Short answer: It depends. If you're recovering from knee surgery, then a knee sleeve (or brace) will ensure that the joint stays in position overnight. If you suffer from chronic knee pain, you may fund relief by putting on a knee sleeve overnight.

How long does it take to bend your knee after surgery? ›

Within 7 to 10 days after your knee replacement, you should be able to get your knee entirely straight/full extension (Fig. 1) (no space between the back of your knee and the table) and you should be able to bend/flex your knee to at least 90 degrees (Fig. 2).

What are the most painful days after knee surgery? ›

The first few days after surgery should include the highest level of pain, but your doctor will send you home with pain medication adequate for your pain level. Most people fully recover from knee replacement surgery in about six months.


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5. ACL Brace
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