Study Proves Off-Road Knee Braces Effective

February 15, 2011
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

EVS Web Knee Brace
Turns out that strapping on a knee brace really does help.

A recent study performed at the Sanders Clinic for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in Houston, Texas indicates that the use of protective knee braces lowers the risk of knee injuries. Researchers conducted an online poll which qualified 2115 off-road motorcycle riders who supplied data over the course of one year.

The study uses the term “prophylactic knee braces” which is defined as “any knee brace worn by a rider with the intent of preventing an injury to the knee.” Riders were divided into categories of braced and nonbraced and they recorded the number of hours riding and any qualifying injuries suffered to their knees. Bruises, scrapes and sprains don’t count, only “acute trauma to 1 or more of the 4 major knee ligaments (ie, anterior cruciate ligament [ACL], posterior cruciate ligament, MCL, and lateral collateral ligament); as a meniscus tear; or as acute trauma to the femur, patella, tibia, or patellar ligament.”

Here’s a portion of the abstract as published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers include Mark S. Sanders, MD, Robert A. Cates, BA, Michael D. Baker, BS, Sue D. Barber-Westin, BS, Wesley M. Gladin, BS and Martin S. Levy, PhD. 

Results: Participants recorded 39 611 riding hours over the study period. A total of 57 riders (2.7%) sustained at least 1 knee injury, for a total of 89 injuries. The most common injuries involved the anterior cruciate ligament, menisci, and medial collateral ligament. There was a significantly higher rate of overall injuries in the nonbraced group versus the braced group (3.675 vs 1.587 per 1000 rider hours, P < .001). Significantly higher incidence rates of anterior cruciate ligament rupture (1.518 vs 0.701 per 1000 rider hours, P = .0274) and medial collateral ligament injury (0.799 vs 0.111 per 1000 rider hours, P = .002) were found among nonbraced riders compared with braced riders.

The Moment of Truth. This photo happened to capture the exact moment when Brians knee transitioned from healthy and strong to mushy and useless.
Racing and riding off-road motorcycles is hard on the entire body, but knees are especially vulnerable.

Conclusion: The most common knee injuries in off-road motorcycling involve the anterior cruciate ligament, menisci, and medial collateral ligament. The use of prophylactic knee bracing appears to have a beneficial effect in preventing medial collateral ligament and anterior cruciate ligament injuries as well as overall knee injury occurrence. These findings may be applicable to other sports that involve similar forces and mechanics. “

While the news is positive and goes to show that the development of protective equipment is making a difference, poking through the statistical data allows us to pull some other interesting conclusions. Of the riders sampled, the largest group are over 35 years of age. Those riders also sport the highest percentage of brace wearers (69%). So are we smarter with age, or simply more fragile? Also, riders with only 1-5 years of experience have the lowest percentage of brace wearers (54%). The longer we’re in this sport, the more injures we experience personally and with other riders. Does this indicate a need for better education and awareness about dirt bike protection? Or perhaps lower prices to help get entry riders geared up. Also, 74% of recorded motocross riders wear braces – the highest of the listed disciplines.

There’s an old saying that there are two kinds of riders – those who have had knee surgery, and those who will. A sport-specific study like this is a valuable tool for providing feedback on a controversial subject. Anyone who has twisted a throttle knows that riding dirt bikes is hard on the body, especially the knees. Even though knee braces cannot prevent all injuries, the data suggests that strapping on a set will at least improve the chances of keeping those important joints in one piece. Read the full article in this PDF file.

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