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MP 1.03.02

Knee Braces

Medical Policy
Durable Medical Equipment
Original Policy Date

Last Review Status/Date
Reviewed with literature search/05:2011

Return to Medical Policy Index


Our medical policies are designed for informational purposes only and are not an authorization, or an explanation of benefits, or a contract.  Receipt of benefits is subject to satisfaction of all terms and conditions of the coverage.  Medical technology is constantly changing, and we reserve the right to review and update our policies periodically.


Knee braces may be custom made or available off-the-shelf in a variety of sizes. Knee braces may be intended for rehabilitation, to reduce pain, or to prevent injury in either stable or unstable knees.

Knee braces typically consist of 3 components: a superstructure (usually a rigid shell), a hinge, and a strap system. The superstructure extends proximally and distally to a hinge centered around the knee axis of motion. The strapping system secures the brace to the limb. Knee braces can be subdivided into 4 categories that are based on their intended use:

  • Prophylactic braces are those that attempt to prevent or reduce the severity of knee ligament injuries. These braces are primarily designed to prevent injuries to the medial collateral ligament, which is among the most common athletic knee injury.
  • Rehabilitation braces are designed to allow protected motion of injured knees that have been treated operatively or non-operatively. These braces allow for controlled joint motion and typically consist of hinges that can be locked into place to limit range of motion. Rehabilitation braces are commonly used for 6 to 12 weeks after injury. Rehabilitation braces are usually purchased off-the-shelf and are not custom made.
  • Functional braces are designed to assist or provide stability for unstable knees during activities of daily living or sports and may be either off-the-shelf or custom made. Derotation braces are typically used after injuries to ligaments and have medial and lateral bars with varying hinge and strap designs. These derotation braces are designed to permit significant motion and speed; in many instances, the braces are worn only during elective activities, such as sports. Braces made of graphite, titanium, or other lightweight materials are specifically designed for high-performance sports. Functional knee braces have also been used in patients with osteoarthritis to decrease the weight on painful joints.
  • Unloader knee braces are specifically designed to reduce the pain and disability associated with osteoarthritis of the medial compartment of the knee by bracing the knee in the valgus position to unload the compressive forces on the medial compartment.


Custom-made unloader knee braces may be considered medically necessary as a treatment of patients with painful osteoarthritis involving the medial compartment of the knee.

Off-the-shelf (custom-fitted) functional knee braces may be considered medically necessary in patients with knee instability due to injury (including patients who have had surgery for the injury) or in patients with painful osteoarthritis of the medial compartment of the knee.

Custom-made functional knee braces are considered not medically necessary. However, the medical necessity of a custom-made knee brace may be an individual consideration in patients with abnormal limb contour, knee deformity, or large size, all of which would preclude the use of an off-the-shelf (custom-fitted) model.

Prophylactic knee braces are considered not medically necessary.

Policy Guidelines

The medical necessity of a custom-made functional knee brace may be an individual consideration in patients with abnormal limb contour, knee deformity, or large size, all of which would preclude the use of an off-the-shelf (custom-fitted) model.

Coding Information
The HCPCS terminology regarding custom-made and off-the-shelf knee braces may be confusing. In general, the term “custom made” describes a brace that is individually made according to precise measurements or molds/casts of an individual patient. Thus a “custom-made” brace may be used only by the individual patient.

According to the HCPCS codes, off-the-shelf models are described as prefabricated. These prefabricated braces may be initially fitted by an orthotist, but this involves simple adjustments of the off-the-shelf braces.

Benefit Application

BlueCard/National Account Issues

Plans may consider developing contractual limits on the repair and replacement of knee braces.

Plans may wish to consider restrictions for any knee brace used solely for recreational purposes.


At the time this policy was created, no data in the published peer-reviewed literature showed that custom-made functional knee braces offered any benefit over off-the-shelf braces in terms of activities of daily living. Many of the custom-made functional knee braces were designed specifically for participation in elective sports and thus would be considered not medically necessary. (1, 2) Research on unloader knee braces for osteoarthritis had focused on the custom-made knee braces and there were minimal data on off-the-shelf unloader knee braces, although several case series suggested that unloader knee braces were associated with a reduction in pain in patients with painful osteoarthritis of the medial compartment. (3) Relevant studies are described below, with evidence periodically updated using the MEDLINE database.


In 1999, Kirkley and colleagues reported on a controlled trial that randomized 119 patients with medial compartment osteoarthritis to receive standard medical management, medical management plus a polychloroprene (Neoprene) sleeve, or medical management plus an unloader knee brace. (4) Compared to the control group, the unloader knee brace was associated with a significant improvement in quality of life and function. In comparing the unloader knee brace with the neoprene sleeve, there was a significant difference in functional outcomes favoring the unloader knee, but no significant difference in terms of quality of life measures.

In a 2005 Cochrane review of braces and othoses for treating osteoarthritis of the knee, Brouwer et al concluded that there was limited evidence in favor of an unloader knee brace. (5) In 2006, Brouwer and colleagues reported a randomized multicenter trial of 117 patients that compared off-the-shelf unloading braces and conservative therapy with conservative therapy alone for unicompartmental (valgus or varus) osteoarthritis of the knee. (6) The addition of a brace resulted in a slight increase in reported walking distances at 3, 6, and 12 months (effect size of 0.4), with trends for improvement in subjective pain (-0.63 on a 10-point visual analogue scale) and knee function (3 points on a 100-point Hospital for Special Surgery score). Quality of life did not differ between the two groups. The authors noted that adherence to the brace was low, with 16 of 60 patients (27%) discontinuing by 3 months and another 9 (15%) stopping treatment by 12 months. Patient-reported reasons for discontinuing use of the unloading brace were lack of benefit and adverse effects (i.e., skin irritation, bad fit).

Another study from 2006 compared custom and off-the-shelf bracing for varus gonarthrosis. (7) Ten patients wore each type of braces for 4-5 weeks (about 9 hours per day) in a randomized order. Pain scores were reduced from 197 mm (500 mm maximum) to 71 mm with the custom brace and 120 mm with the off-the-shelf brace. Stiffness was reduced from 91 mm (200 mm maximum) to 36 mm with the custom brace and 63 mm with the off-the-shelf brace. Function was improved from 664 mm (1700 mm maximum) to 248 mm with the custom brace, whereas the off-the-shelf brace did not significantly affect function. Kinematic analysis showed a reduction in peak knee adduction moments during gait and stair-stepping, and reduced varus angulation by 1.5° compared with baseline with the custom brace. The off-the-shelf brace did not reduce the varus angle.

A French clinical practice guideline committee evaluated evidence on the use of braces in knee osteoarthritis in 2009. (8) The review found mainly low quality evidence in support of valgus knee braces for symptomatic medial femoro-tibial osteoarthritis with short- and mid-term reduction of pain and disability. Side effects included venous thromboembolic events. No additional controlled trials were identified in a 2010 review of bracing in the management of knee osteoarthritis. (9)

A 2010 study compared use of insoles or off-the-shelf braces for medial knee osteoarthritis in a randomized trial of 91 patients with medial compartmental knee osteoarthritis. (10) Pain severity, measured by a 10 point visual analog scale (VAS), improved by 0.9 in the insole group and 1.0 for the brace group in intent-to-treat analysis. Function on the Western Ontario and McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) improved by 4.2 and 4.0 points out of 100, respectively. There was no significant effect on the hip-knee-ankle angle for either device. Compliance was 45% for the brace group, with a mean wearing time of 39 hours (SD 32 hours). After 6 months of use, neither insoles nor off-the-shelf braces resulted in clinically significant changes in varus angle, pain, or function.

In 2011, Hunter et al. reported a randomized trial of patellofemoral bracing for the treatment of patellofemoral osteoarthritis. (11) Eighty subjects completed 6 weeks with a BioSkin Q Brace with the patellar realigning strap applied, and 6 weeks with the realigning strap removed. There was a 6-week interval between the 2 conditions and the order of treatment was randomized. They found no effect of treatment on VAS knee pain and no significant difference between the groups for WOMAC pain, function, or stiffness outcomes.

Ligamentous Instability of the Knee

Soma and colleagues compared the performance of custom-made and off-the-shelf functional knee braces from 4 manufacturers in 2004. (12) As a group, the custom-made knees braces restrained anterior displacement better than the off-the-shelf models by a mean difference of 0.84 mm. The clinical significance of this minimal, but statistically significant, difference is questionable.

A 2007 systematic review of 12 randomized controlled trials of bracing for rehabilitation following anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction “found no evidence supporting the routine use of functional or rehabilitative bracing in a patient with a reconstructed ACL. In particular no study demonstrated a clinically important finding of improved range of motion, decreased pain, improved graft stability or decreased complications and reinjuries.” (13)

In 2008, Birmingham and colleagues reported a randomized controlled trial comparing use of an off-the-shelf functional knee brace or neoprene sleeve beginning 6-weeks after ACL reconstruction. (14) Out of 150 patients randomized to a brace or sleeve after surgery, 127 (85%) completed 24-month follow-up. Compliance was similar for the 2 groups and 3 patients from each group had graft failures and revision surgeries. Confidence in the knee was rated higher for the brace (70 vs 55 out of 100), as was the rating of help in returning to sport (66 vs 53). No other outcome measures differed between the groups, including the ACL-quality of life questionnaire, highest activity level, satisfaction with the brace/sleeve, side-to-side laxity, or functional tests. As this report described evaluators as blinded to the patient’s group allocation, it does not appear that the patients were wearing the brace or sleeve at the time of functional testing.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

In 2008, Warden et al reported a meta-analysis of 16 randomized or quasi-randomized studies assessing patellar taping or bracing effects on chronic knee pain. (15) Thirteen trials investigated taping or bracing for anterior knee pain and 3 investigated taping for osteoarthritis. The authors concluded there was limited evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of patellar bracing. They reported high heterogeneity between study outcomes and significant publication bias in the studies.


Evidence of efficacy of off-the-shelf bracing is limited for osteoarthritis of the medial compartment, ligamentous instability, or patellofemoral pain.

Technology Assessments, Guidelines and Position Statements
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) provided a 2009 clinical practice guideline on the nonarthroplasty treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. (16) The AAOS was unable to make a recommendation for or against the use of a brace with a varus- or valgus- directing force for patients with medial or lateral unicompartmental osteoarthritis of the knee, based on limited evidence for the effectiveness of knee braces. (4, 6)

Medicare National Coverage
No national coverage decision


  1. Liu SH, Mirzayan R. Current review. Functional knee bracing. Clin Orthop Relat Res 1995; (317):273-81.
  2. Beynnon BD, Pope MH, Wertheimer CM et al. The effect of functional knee-braces on strain on the anterior cruciate ligament in vivo. J Bone Joint Surg Am 1992; 74(9):1298-312.
  3. Matsuno H, Kadowaki KM, Tsuji H. Generation II knee bracing for severe medial compartment osteoarthritis of the knee. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1997; 78(7):745-9.
  4. Kirkley A, Webster-Bogaert S, Litchfield R et al. The effect of bracing on varus gonarthrosis. J Bone Joint Surg Am 1999; 81(4):539-48.
  5. Brouwer RW, Jakma TS, Verhagen AP et al. Braces and orthoses for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005; (1):CD004020.
  6. Brouwer RW, van Raaij TM, Verhaar JA et al. Brace treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee: a prospective randomized multi-centre trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2006; 14(8):777-83.
  7. Draganich L, Reider B, Rimington T et al. The effectiveness of self-adjustable custom and off-the-shelf bracing in the treatment of varus gonarthrosis. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2006; 88(12):2645-52.
  8. Beaudreuil J, Bendaya S, Faucher M et al. Clinical practice guidelines for rest orthosis, knee sleeves, and unloading knee braces in knee osteoarthritis. Joint Bone Spine 2009; 76(6):629-36.
  9. Rannou F, Poiraudeau S, Beaudreuil J. Role of bracing in the management of knee osteoarthritis. Curr Opin Rheumatol 2010; 22(2):218-22.
  10. van Raaij TM, Reijman M, Brouwer RW et al. Medial Knee Osteoarthritis Treated by Insoles or Braces: A Randomized Trial. Clin Orthop Relat Res 2010.
  11. Hunter DJ, Harvey W, Gross KD et al. A randomized trial of patellofemoral bracing for treatment of patellofemoral osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2011 (in press).
  12. Soma CA, Cawley PW, Liu S et al. Custom-fit versus premanufactured braces. Orthopedics 2004; 27(3):307-10.
  13. Wright RW, Fetzer GB. Bracing after ACL reconstruction: a systematic review. Clin Orthop Relat Res 2007; 455:162-8.
  14. Birmingham TB, Bryant DM, Giffin JR et al. A randomized controlled trial comparing the effectiveness of functional knee brace and neoprene sleeve use after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Am J Sports Med 2008; 36(4):648-55.
  15. Warden SJ, Hinman RS, Watson MA, Jr. et al. Patellar taping and bracing for the treatment of chronic knee pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arthritis Rheum 2008; 59(1):73-83.
  16. Richmond J, Hunter D, Irrgang J et al. Treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee (nonarthroplasty). J Am Acad Orthop Surg 2009; 17(9):591-600.





CPT  No Code   
ICD-9 Procedure  No Code   
ICD-9 Diagnosis  715.06–715.96  Osteoarthrosis code range. Fifth digit of 6 designates “lower leg,” which includes knee 
  717.0–717.49  Internal derangement of knee, code range 
  718.86  Knee instability 
  836.0–836.69  Dislocation of knee, code range 
  844.0–844.9  Sprain/strain of knee and leg, code range 
  959.7  Other and unspecified injury of knee, leg, ankle, and/or foot 
HCPCS (only those codes that would describe braces identified as medically necessary are listed)  L1810  K0, elastic with joints  
  L1820  K0, elastic with condylar pads and joints 
  L1830 Knee orthotic (KO), immobilizer, canvas longitudinal, prefabricated, includes fitting and adjustment
  L1830  K0, immobilizer, canvas longitudinal 
  L1831 Knee orthotic, locking knee joint(s), positional orthotic, prefabricated, includes fitting and adjustment
  L1832  K0, adjustable knee joints, positional orthosis, rigid support 
  L1836  KO, rigid, without joint(s), includes soft interface material, prefabricated 
  L1843  KO, single upright, thigh and calf, with adjustable flexion and extension joint, medial-lateral and rotation control, includes varus/valgus adjustment, custom fitted 
  L1844  KO, single upright, thigh and calf, with adjustable flexion and extension joint, medial-lateral and rotation control, includes varus/valgus adjustment, molded to patient model (Only considered medically necessary in patients with osteoarthritis) 
  L1845  KO, double upright, thigh and calf, with adjustable flexion and extension joint, medial-lateral and rotation control custom fitted. 
L1846 Knee orthosis, double upright, thigh and calf, with adjustable flexion and extension joint (unicentric or polycentric), medial-lateral and rotation control, with or without varus/valgus adjustment, custom fabricated 
  L1847  Knee orthosis, double upright with adjustable joint, with inflatable air support chamber(s). 
  L1850  KO, Swedish type 
  E1810 Dynamic adjustable knee extension/flexion device, includes soft interface material
ICD-10-CM (effective 10/1/13) M17.10-M17.32, M17.4, M17.4, M17.9 Osteoarthritis code range
   M23.50-M23.52 Knee instability, code range
   M23.90-M23.92 Internal derangement of knee, code range
   S83.101-S83.106 Dislocation of knee, code range
   S83.40-S83.92 Sprain/strain of knee and leg, code range
   89.80-S89.92 Other and unspecified injury of lower leg, unspecified injury of lower leg, code range
ICD-10-PCS (effective 10/1/13)    Not applicable. ICD-10-PCS codes are only used for inpatient services. There are no ICD procedure codes for orthotics.
Type of Service  Orthopedics 
Place of Service  Outpatient 


Braces, knee
Knee braces
Orthotics, knee

Policy History

Date Action Reason
11/01/97 Add to DME section, Orthotic Devices subsection New policy
03/15/99 Replace policy Revised policy; addresses knee braces for osteoarthritis
07/12/02 Replace policy Policy reviewed; policy statement unchanged. Additional references added
10/9/03 Replace policy Literature review update and HCPCS code added; policy unchanged
04/16/04 Replace policy Policy reviews; policy statement unchanged. One additional reference
7/15/04 Replace policy Policy statement modified to clarify that post-operative use of off-the-shelf functional knee braces is included in the medically necessary indications
03/15/05 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; no change in policy statement. Reference 6 added. The list of commercially available knee braces was not reviewed.
3/7/06 Local policy Policy updated with literature search; no change in policy statement. Reference 10 added. The list of commercially available knee braces was not reviewed
04/15/08 Update coding only  Updated HCPCS codes
11/24/08 Replace policy  Added references 11-13 ; policy statement unchanged
05/13/10 Replace policy -local status removed Policy returned to active review and updated with literature search; references added and reordered. Policy statements unchanged
5/12/11 replace policy Policy updated with literature search through March 2011; reference 11 added; policy statements unchanged.

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