What are knee and leg splints and braces?

Often, people use the terms "splints" and "braces" interchangeably. There are knee and leg braces and leg splints. Braces come in many different forms. They can be sleeves that fit tightly to compress the area to keep it still. They can be made from fiberglass or plastic for extra stability.

A leg splint is different. It can stabilize and support a new leg injury. You might also need to wear one before surgery to hold your leg still. This keeps an injury or condition from getting worse. Doctors often use splints in emergencies because they're quick to apply. A splint allows the injury to swell until a medical professional can give a thorough exam.

Types of knee and leg braces

There are different types of braces. These include:

  • Prophylactic braces that prevent injuries to ligaments
  • Functional braces that support injured knees and reduce rotation
  • Rehabilitative braces that limit movement while you're healing from injury or surgery
  • Unloader/offloader braces that are specially made for arthritic knees by keeping stress off the hurt joint

Depending on what part of your leg is healing, you may need a leg brace, but not always a knee brace. For example, walking braces and boots treat small fractures. They're easy to walk in but stabilize your leg while walking. Some leg braces are actually compression sleeves. Other leg braces, such as the full leg/knee brace, are helpful after ACL or reconstructive knee surgery.

What to expect when wearing knee and leg sprints and braces

Knee or leg rehabilitation involves wearing a brace for a few weeks or months. You might combine wearing a brace with using crutches.

Once your doctor fits you for your particular brace, they give you directions on when and how to wear it and how to clean it. You need to protect the brace in the shower by putting a plastic bag over it to keep it dry.

When you're resting at home, you may need to elevate your leg to reduce swelling while wearing your brace. However, don't put a pillow under your leg or knee unless your doctor says to. Pillows should go under your heel most of the time.

Common conditions that require knee and leg splints and braces

Your knees and legs absorb most of your weight when you're standing. That means there are many opportunities for injury. Some conditions that may need the help of a knee or leg brace include:

  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Shin splints
  • Bowed legs
  • Knock knees
  • ACL surgery
  • Worn cartilage
  • Ligament tears
  • Ankle fractures
  • Posture problems

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