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Knee braces for MCL sprains – Do you need one and what type works best?

Updated: Feb 23

A knee brace can be a useful and sometimes necessary part of MCL sprain treatment, but not everyone will need or benefit from one. In this article, we discuss who needs an MCL brace, what type of brace is best for your type of injury, and when and for how long to wear it. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.

Learn what type of MCL sprain brace works best and when to wear them

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Do I need a brace for my MCL sprain or tear?

Grade 1 MCL sprains can usually be treated without a brace. Grade 2 and Grade 3 sprains usually require a brace. This article has more detail about how MCL sprains are graded.

What does a brace do?

The correct type of brace will support your MCL and allow it to heal while you continue to move and exercise. The research shows that starting rehab exercises and weightbearing early leads to better recovery, and an MCL brace can help you to do this safely.

What type of brace is best for MCL sprains?

Stay away from braces that don’t allow your knee to bend at all; the same goes for plaster casts. Total immobilisation reduces the formation of new collagen fibres; these are what your ligaments are made of and what your MCL needs to replace the torn fibres.

The best type is a hinged brace with metal or carbon fibre rods on the sides.

  • The hinge ensures that your knee can still bend and straighten, while the rods limit the side-to-side movement. It can also be set to avoid straigtening the leg fully during the first couple of weeks, which further reduces the strain on the MCL.

  • The rods temporarily take over the job of your MCL. Your MCL prevents your knee joint from gapping on the inner (medial) part. Now that it is injured, you want to reduce that strain for a while to allow the ligament to heal.

The best type of brace for an MCL sprain is one that has adjustable hinges and metal rods on the sides.

A hinged brace will also allow you to start doing weight-bearing exercises much sooner, which will stimulate the production of new collagen fibres, help them to realign correctly, and then strengthen them.

Soft knee braces or sleaves are not useful, as they don’t provide enough support.

Not all hinged braces are the same

Most stable brace with adjustable hinge

The most stable knee braces are the ones that come high up the thigh and low down on the shin. They usually also have a hinge that you can lock in a certain place to stop your knee from straightening fully if this is required.

Such a brace may be needed if you have a Grade 3 MCL tear, but may be overkill for a Grade 2 tear.

Examples available on Amazon:

Medium stability with adjustable hinge

These braces don’t reach as far up and down the leg, and therefore provide a medium level of support. Their hinges are also adjustable and can be set to avoid certain ranges of movement.

Medium stability braces are more appropriate for Grade 2 MCL sprains.

Examples on Amazon:

Medium stability without adjustable hinge

These braces provide a similar level of support to that of the ones above, but their hinges can’t be adjusted to restrict how far your knee bends or straightens. They may be appropriate for some Grade 2 MCL sprains.

Examples on Amazon:

When should you wear your brace?

Your should wear your brace whenever you’re standing, walking, or doing your exercises. Your doctor may even advise that you wear it while sleeping during the early stages. You can find more information about what exercises to do for MCL tears here.

How long to wear an MCL brace for

The current expert opinion is:

  • Grade 1 MCL sprains: No brace needed

  • Grade 2 MCL tears: At least 3 weeks

  • Grade 3 tears: At least 6 weeks.

How we can help

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

The Sports Injury Physio team

We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Sports Injury Physio we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.

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About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.



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