Learning how to wear a knee brace after ACL surgery could get you better faster. However, this will largely depend on your surgeon's recommendation.
See, some orthopedic surgeons recommend wearing a knee brace to protect the surgery site. But other professionals may not consider this necessary, as the leg may be strong enough to support the knee while it heals.
With that said, below we'll discuss 5 tips to wear a knee brace after ACL reconstruction, its pros and cons, and more related information. Here's the table of contents:
5 Tips to easily put on your knee brace after ACL surgery
These hacks can make it easier for you to put on your brace:
Warning: Always follow the surgeon's instructions, even if they contradict what you see here.
1) Always put on your brace over a flat surface
Doing this will minimize your risk of accidentally falling, and will ensure you place the brace properly. Remember that your ACL graft will be fragile during the first few weeks after surgery.
2) Wear it directly on your skin as much as possible
This will make sure the brace works as intended and prevent it from slipping down. Once your swollen knee joint settles, you might be able to wear the brace over your pants.
3) Double-check that the hinges are aligned with your leg
The brace's hinges are there to limit motion and protect your graft. They should be aligned with your knee joint for the brace to function properly.
4) Always keep your brace and skin clean
As you'll wear your knee brace constantly, it can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria in no time. To avoid this, it's best to wipe away sweat from both your brace and your skin every time you take it off.
Keep reading: How to clean your knee brace?
5) Don't be shy to ask for help
A knee brace is already challenging to put on for most people, even more so after surgery. If you're struggling to don and doff your brace, ask for help!
What are the advantages of wearing a knee brace after ACL surgery?
ACL reconstruction patients often reap the following benefits when wearing a knee brace (1):
Prevention of early graft tears.
May reduce post-operative pain.
May lessen joint swelling.
May improve your sense of balance.
May help maintain good knee alignment.
What about the disadvantages?
Some patients who wear a knee brace could also encounter the following drawbacks in using one (1):
The cost, more so if it's custom-made.
Lack of comfort.
Loss of muscle size.
Loss of range of motion.
Which type of knee brace should you wear?
Most orthopaedic surgeons recommend their patients go through the following knee braces during each phase of their recovery:
This brace is usually given right after surgery to provide joint support and avoid any tension over the repaired tissues.
These garments tend to be bulky and heavy, but they should be worn as the doctor instructed so you can recover faster.
Functional knee bracing
These often have a lock system that restrains the range of motion to a certain degree. Throughout your recovery, your surgeon may adjust the dial to allow for more movement.
Functional knee braces are usually available off-the-shelf or custom-made by an orthotist.
These are compressive garments that promote blood flow, help with swelling, reduce pain and don't restrict any movements.
Most surgeons recommend wearing them in the final stages of recovery, when you can bend your knee comfortably and walk independently.
How long will it take to recover from ACL surgery?
Theoretically, it takes around 9 months. But ACL recovery largely depends on the surgery done, the type of recovery protocol afterwards, and your individual factors.
For example, an ACL repair could heal faster than a reconstruction. The former surgical approach isn't as invasive and complex as the latter. This often translates into faster recovery.
As for the recovery protocol, some patients are eligible for an "accelerated" one. These are often done on high-level athletes that need to return to sports quickly, after around 6 months of physical therapy. (4)
But your individual factors play the biggest part. Young people with an active lifestyle and no previous medical conditions tend to heal faster, compared to older adults with previous injuries and a sedentary lifestyle.
Do I need to wear a knee brace to fully recover?
There is conflicting data on whether a knee brace could make much of a difference to achieve full recovery. Some studies find it helpful, while others didn't find it superior to not wearing anything. That's why it boils down to your surgeon's preference.
If your surgeon recommends wearing one, then it's probably in your best interest to follow their instructions.
However, if they did not suggest using a brace, but you think you're more comfortable recovering with one, discuss it with your doctor. They'll be able to guide you through this decision and help you buy one.
Other methods to recover after ACL surgery
Using a knee brace is just one of the many treatments you'll do after ACL surgery. You'll also have to do the following:
Take pain medications
Your doctor will prescribe either opioids or anti-inflammatory drugs to make your knee feel better.
You might start with multiple doses per day. Don't worry as you'll slowly wean off them after a while as the pain settles.
To avoid any kind of complications, you should follow your doctor's instructions on when and how many pain medications you should take per day.
This is another method to further reduce pain and swelling around your operated knee. Just place an ice pack over your knee for 10 minutes at a time and do so every few hours.
We recommend doing ice therapy right before bedtime so that you wouldn't have a hard time falling asleep due to pain.
A few days after surgery, your doctor will refer you for physical therapy (PT) to work on your operated knee.
Physios are healthcare professionals, trained to heal your knee after surgery. They do this with several tools:
Pain management strategies, like thermotherapy and manual therapy.
Strength, balance, and flexibility training, to get your knee to work as it used to before the surgery.
Get you back to your sport discipline if you're an athlete.
As you'll undergo months of PT, we recommend consulting a physio specializing in sports or orthopedics to speed up your recovery.
How tight should a brace be after ACL surgery?
The tightness of a brace after ACL surgery should be enough to keep it in place, but not so much it's painful or restricts blood flow.
Should I wear my brace all the time after ACL surgery?
You should wear your brace after ACL surgery as your doctor instructed. Some recommend doing this all the time for the first few days, while others suggest removing it occasionally.
Do I have to sleep with my knee brace on after ACL surgery?
Your surgeon will tell you if you have to sleep with your knee brace on after ACL surgery. Some recommend doing this, while others suggest taking it off for sleep.
Conclusion: How do you wear an ACL brace after surgery?
To wear an ACL brace properly, put it on while on a flat surface, align the hinges with the joint line, and don't hesitate to ask for help.
Remember that a knee brace is just one part of the overall recovery process after ACL surgery. It's equally (if not more) important to follow through with your medications and physical therapy appointments.
Marois, Bianca et al. “Can a Knee Brace Prevent ACL Reinjury: A Systematic Review.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 18,14 7611. 17 Jul. 2021, doi: 10.3390/ijerph18147611
Kousa, Petteri et al. "Anterior Cruciate Ligament Strain Behavior During Rehabilitation Exercises." The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (Second Edition) 2018, Pages 440-444.e2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780323389624001089
Lowe, Walter R et al. “Functional Bracing After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Systematic Review.” The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons vol. 25,3 (2017): 239-249. DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-15-00710
Waldron, Kristen et al. “Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rehabilitation and Return to Sport: How Fast Is Too Fast?.” Arthroscopy, sports medicine, and rehabilitation vol. 4,1 e175-e179. 28 Jan. 2022, DOI: 10.1016/j.asmr.2021.10.027