Several factors determine how long should you wear a knee brace - the injury itself, the type of activities you do, and your healthcare provider's opinion are some of them.
This means you may need to wear a knee brace for a few hours and during certain activities. Or for months, maybe even while you sleep, if the injury is severe.
But don't worry, we'll discuss all about it below so you know what to do. Tap the links below to jump ahead to each section quickly:
5 factors to know how long to wear a knee brace
The following situations will give you a rough estimate of how long your knee supports should be on:
1) How recent is your knee injury
A recently injured knee may need the support of a brace for a few days or weeks to promote recovery.
This will also determine the type of brace needed. For example, ligament or meniscal injuries may need a hinged knee brace to limit certain motions and avoid further damage.
But milder injuries may go by with a basic knee sleeve. These provide compression while also keeping your knee warm, promoting healing. (1)
2) The type of injury
Chronic knee joint conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can have flare-ups and joint stiffness episodes.
Wearing a brace most of the day can keep knee arthritis symptoms in check, so you can go about your life as normally as possible. In these cases is best to go for soft braces, like knee sleeves. (1)
Knee sleeves provide compression, which can provide pain relief as you wear them.
3) Right after knee surgery
Your doctor might require you to wear a hinged brace or knee immobilizer for a few weeks to a month. This will entirely depend on the surgery itself.
Your physician may recommend keeping it on even while you sleep to prevent unnecessary joint movements. It's key to follow these instructions, as they will control pain and promote healing.
4) Your activities
You should wear your knee brace while you do activities that may cause pain.
For example, say you feel wobbly knees when you walk for more than 30 minutes. Here, wearing a knee brace for your walks is a reasonable solution to add joint stability and keep you going on your feet.
Or, let's say you have joint symptoms while you do knee exercises. Wearing a sleeve as you work out can help reduce knee pain, which translates into a more successful session.
However, you should also consider consulting a physical therapist.
See, a knee brace works because it provides external support. But if you're using it excessively, it can lead you to be too dependent on it.
There may be a point where you think you need to keep wearing one just to move normally. This is not how knee braces should be used.
In this case, a physical therapist can figure out why this happened and treat whatever the root problem is. This will help you live your life again brace-free.
5) Your medical practitioner's advice
Doctors and physical therapists are medical experts. So how long and often you should wear your knee brace will depend on their assessment, too.
Whether you need it to reduce pain or improve function, they will give you the right duration according to your needs.
Tips to make knee braces more comfortable
Comfort will dictate how long you can wear your knee brace properly and how often. However, certain braces are inherently more uncomfortable than others.
A compression sleeve is the most comfortable of all, while hinged and unloader brace designs are on the other side of the spectrum. These knee braces work by restricting the joint, so the discomfort is a trade-off to reap their benefits.
However, you can make it a little easier on yourself with these tips:
Pick the right size of knee brace
Braces may differ in features and functionality, but all of that is nothing if it doesn't fit properly.
To choose the right knee brace, first check the sizing chart of the manufacturer - most brands have different measurements. And once you slip it on, you should do the two-fingers test to ensure it will be comfortable to wear.
Learn more: How tight should your knee brace be?
Ease your way into it
Going from zero to wearing a knee brace several hours per day is a recipe for discomfort. Give yourself an adjustment period, more so if you aren't under medical supervision.
Start by putting it on an hour or so per day, even while sitting or doing household chores. Add more time once you get used to it.
Related: How to wear a knee brace?
Wash your brace regularly
Just like regular clothes, a knee brace gathers sweat and bacteria the longer you use it. Having a regular cleaning schedule will prevent bad smells and prolong the life of the product.
Some manufacturers include specific instructions on how to properly wash their braces. Otherwise, soaking it with a mild detergent and letting it air dry may be enough to do the trick.
Keep your skin clean
It's equally important to keep your skin clean to avoid rashes and allergies. This will also prevent the knee brace from slipping.
Removing your brace from time to time also helps to allow your skin to breathe and the built-up moisture to dissipate.
Wear comfortable clothing
Shorts are a good option to wear, both for your skin's breathability and for the brace to get a good hold on your knee. But some types of knee braces and pants could also work well together.
Keep reading: Tips for wearing a knee brace with pants
Is it OK to wear a knee brace all day?
It's ok to wear a knee brace all day as long as your doctor recommends it. If not, then you should only wear one during activities where you need more joint support.
Should I wear a knee brace to bed?
You should wear a knee brace to bed if your doctor recommends it. Doing this could also prevent further injury if you toss and turn a lot when you sleep.
Does wearing a knee brace weaken the knee?
No, wearing a knee brace doesn't weaken the knee muscles. But it could make you reliant on it if you get used to having one on. (2)
Conclusion: How often should you wear a knee brace?
This depends on the injury itself, your activities, and the recommendations of your healthcare providers.
If you plan to use it for sports or leisure, it may be best to wear it until you are through. But if there are strict orders from a healthcare professional, it's only wise to follow their advice.
We also recommend that you consult a physical therapist to help you recover and potentially shorten how much time you need to wear a brace.
Cudejko, Tomasz et al. “The immediate effect of a soft knee brace on pain, activity limitations, self-reported knee instability, and self-reported knee confidence in patients with knee osteoarthritis.” Arthritis research & therapy vol. 19,1 260. 1 Dec. 2017, doi: 10.1186/s13075-017-1456-0
Callaghan, Michael J et al. “The Effect of Knee Braces on Quadriceps Strength and Inhibition in Subjects With Patellofemoral Osteoarthritis.” The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy vol. 46,1 (2016): 19-25. DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2016.5093