Could You Benefit From An
Arthritis Knee Brace?

Have knee arthritis? If so, an arthritis knee brace might help you. If you are experiencing knee osteoarthritis symptoms, you want to explore every option. What types of knee braces are out there? Do they work in reducing knee joint pain and are they worth the money?

Knee Arthritis

The knee joint is a common joint to develop arthritic pain. Knee arthritis occurs when the lining of the end of the bone, called articular cartilage, becomes damaged and inflamed. The region most commonly involved is the medial or inner aspect of the knee joint.

knee arthritis

Types of Braces

There are two general types of arthritis knee braces: sleeves and unloader braces.

Knee sleeves are generally comprised of neoprene and come either with or without hinges on the side. The most popular and comfortable braces also have a hole in the front of the brace to help reduce pressure on the knee cap. Knee sleeves can generally be purchased for around $75.

knee sleeve

The second type of brace is called an unloader brace. Most knee osteoarthritis symptoms are associated with the medial or inside compartment of the joint. Compression of the joint, specifically when there is no cartilage to cushion the joint, leads to knee pain. The goal of the unloader arthritis knee brace is to apply a force on the outside aspect of the knee in order to unload the medial compartment and reduce joint pain. Unloader braces cost from $500 up to $700 and are generally not covered by insurance.

Knee unloader brace

Will An Arthritis Knee Brace Work?

The good news is that there is research regarding the benefits of using knee braces for knee arthritis symptoms that we can use to help make wise decisions.

Regarding knee sleeves, the research has found:

• Sleeves can help to improve balance thus possibly reducing the risk for falls.

• Users of knee sleeves reported an increased sense of security with activities.

• Sleeves are effective in helping to reduce symptoms but have not been shown to improve function or limit disability.

• Compliance with the use of knee sleeves is generally high.

The research on unloader braces has found:

• In small studies unloader braces were effective in both reducing pain and improving gait mechanics and walking tolerance.

• Unloader braces may actually be effective because of the change in muscle contraction forces and not just the reduction of medial compartment force.

• Braces designed to unload the medial knee may be less effective in obese patients.

• Long term benefits from unloader braces are reduced secondary to reported poor compliance with using the brace on a consistent basis.

• Younger patients had both a better outcome and increased compliance with using unloader braces.

• The development of blood clots is a small but present risk factor with unloader braces.

So, what is the take home message? Generally unloader braces work better than knee sleeves but they are more expensive and are less comfortable to use. If you are younger, more active, and are willing to commit to its use, the unloader brace may be for you.

Make sure to consult with your doctor regarding the use of either of these braces. Bracing is only a part of a comprehensive osteoarthritis treatment plan. Make sure to take advantage of all potential means of reducing your knee joint pain.

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Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2011 Jun;26(5):497-503. Epub 2011 Feb 16.Effects of unloading bracing on knee and hip joints for patients with medial compartment knee osteoarthritis.Toriyama M, Deie M, Shimada N, Otani T, Shidahara H, Maejima H, Moriyama H, Shibuya H, Okuhara A, Ochi M

Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2011 Mar;90(3):247-62.Efficacy of knee braces and foot orthoses in conservative management of knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review.Raja K, Dewan N

J Rehabil Res Dev. 2010;47(5):419-29.Analysis of biomechanical effectiveness of valgus-inducing knee brace for osteoarthritis of knee.Schmalz T, Knopf E, Drewitz H, Blumentritt S

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