Like a helmet or shoulder pads, stabilizing knee braces have become standard football equipment. Especially for lineman, and often for quarterbacks, braces are intended to prevent an injury or the re-injury of a player who previously experienced a partial or complete rupture of one or more of their ligaments.
On a football field, every player is at risk. It isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of which players will go down during the season. Like the differences in the design, construction and features of pads and helmets, the fabrication process and structural components of ligament knee braces vary significantly.
“If you watch Saturday football, probably 80 percent of the braces worn by players are made by our largest competitor,”” admits Rick Riley, CEO of Townsend Design. “Is it the best brace? Do the team physicians, certified athletic trainers and coaches evaluate different braces the way they compare other protective and performance-enhancing equipment?””
According to Riley, decisions about the braces worn by a team’s players are sometimes based on brand awareness, historic habit, and/or a large manufacturer’s ability to develop relationships with physicians and trainers.
“Townsend Design is a small orthopedic bracing company. While we have braced hundreds of pro and collegiate football players, we aren’t the best known brand. Our technology has always been significantly better than our marketing,”” said Riley. “In terms of how a brace is made, the materials, and the technical features, we love to go head-to-head with the better known companies. We just want team physicians, coaches and trainers to compare the performance and get feedback from their players.””
What thought is given to how the fabrication process contributes to fit quality and durability? Who compares which company’s brace is the best at continuously staying correctly positioned on the limb? How many teams consider the functional consequences of a brace that gaps, pistons and slips while the player is on the field? Considering the circumference of a lineman’s thigh and calf, if a brace slips an inch down the leg while the player is practicing or in a game situation, how much do the straps loosen? How intimately are the brace shells fitting after it migrates?
“Teams that order our custom graphite Air Townsend brace or the Townsend Premier knee brace know these products stay in the ideal and intended position on the leg. Our braces don’t migrate because the brace design, fabrication process, anatomical hinge motion and suspension technology are all proprietary,”” said Riley.
Riley, who injured his knee playing college basketball, has worn ligament and osteoarthritis knee braces for more than 35 years. Yet he admits — even as the CEO of a bracing company — that wearing a brace isn’t enjoyable.
“How many players end up loving their brace? Compliance is always an issue for trainers, and the root cause of complaints is often migration or the player feeling the brace is hindering speed and movement. When a brace slips and the hinges are no longer aligned with the axis of the knee, how does this impact a player’s attitude and mobility? Does the migration reduce the protection? I hope trainers and team physicians are asking these questions,”” said Riley.