How to Put On a Knee Brace

Proper fit is key to getting the right knee support

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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.

Man wearing knee brace
PhotoAlto / Odilon Dimier / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

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.

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.

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.

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-finger test 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-finger test 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.

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.

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

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Family Physicians: Knee bracing: what works?

  2. Cudejko T, van der Esch M, Schrijvers J, et al. The immediate effect of a soft knee brace on dynamic knee instability in persons with knee osteoarthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2018;57(10):1735–42. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/key162

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Knee braces – unloading.

  4. Braceability. How to choose the correct knee brace size.

  5. Hacker SP, Schall F, Ignatius A, Dürselen L. The effect of knee brace misalignment on the anterior cruciate ligament: An experimental study. Prosthet Orthot Int. 2019;43(3):309-315. doi:10.1177/0309364618824443

Additional Reading

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.