Here’s the kind of thinking that doesn’t surprise you in the least.
Brian Moore, a longtime executive at DonJoy, which manufactures braces, said he believed the practice of prophylactic bracing began in the early 1990s, though it did not gain traction at the highest level of college football until later that decade. The premise is that the braces are needed to protect the vulnerable joints of linemen, who are often hit on the side or the back of a knee by other players who are falling in the so-called trenches, near the line of scrimmage.
In fact, according to Moore, just about every Division I team in the country now requires its linemen to wear knee braces in practice, if not in games, even if those players have never had a knee injury.
“It’s true; the participation rate is near 100 percent,” said Brian Pietrosimone, an assistant professor of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who has studied prophylactic bracing at length.
“But,” he added, “they’re using these things without much evidence to support that it works. In fact, the evidence is troublingly inconclusive.”
Of course, Moore, the executive from DonJoy, disagrees. In a telephone interview, he cited three studies indicating that wearing braces could help linemen avoid the most severe types of injuries. When a reporter pointed out that all three studies had been conducted more than 15 years ago, he said the research was still valid.
Pietrosimone, however, was part of a group that did a systematic review of all studies on whether knee braces prevent injury in 2008 and concluded that the issue was not so clear-cut. The methodology of the studies was flawed in many cases, the review found, and several studies even indicated that wearing braces might increase — not decrease — the risk of knee injury.
Those braces cost about $1000 a set, so it’s not hard to see why Mr. Moore might disagree with a point of view that doesn’t find them necessary. It sounds like more research into the matter might be worthwhile.
Eh, studies, shmudies.
… Danny Poole, who is Clemson’s director of sports medicine and has been at the university for more than three decades, estimated that he began endorsing the practice 15 years ago. (Clemson also requires players to have either tape or a brace on their ankles.) Poole said he was largely indifferent to skepticism that might appear in academic journals, preferring a more direct evaluation.
“I’m not a big, huge studies guy,” Poole said. “I like to hear from the players. And the first time you hear, ‘That brace saved me today,’ you know it’s doing something.”
Yeah, who you gonna believe, your players or lying studies? Welp, except your players ain’t all that convinced, either.
“I really don’t know if they work or not, but rules are rules,” Clemson lineman Mitch Hyatt said with a shrug. “I just wish they weren’t so irritating.”
Players’ gripes about the braces run the gamut: Many do not like having to show up to practice 10 minutes early to put them on. Some do not like how the braces feel. And just about everyone does not like their distinct odor after several months of practices and games.
Pierschbacher also took issue with the entire brace aesthetic, describing them as “robotic,” and complaining that “you don’t feel all swagged out like you should” when wearing them.
Tyrone Crowder, who plays guard for Clemson, said he had never worn braces in high school and was “not that stoked” when he arrived at the university and was told that he had to use them in practices.
“I actually don’t wear them in games because I just can’t,” he said. “When I don’t wear them, I feel like I’m flying around. When I do, it’s like my legs just get so tired.”
Shut up, kid, and suit up.