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Unloader Knee Brace for Osteoarthritis

by Jane Hodgson 27 April 2012


Unloader knee braces for osteoarthritis have been shown to reduce pain, improve muscle strength and consequently increase function in people who have osteoarthritis affecting one part of the knee.

Knee osteoarthritis is a common problem, management  may be in the form of surgery or by what is known as conservative management which includes, as appropriate, strengthening exercises for the muscles around the knee, the use of pain killers, injections into the joint, weight loss,  or the use of a knee brace.

The knee joint can be considered as having three parts, the joint between the knee cap and the thigh bone, which is known as the patella femoral joint, and the joint between the thigh bone and the shin bone, the tibio femoral joint. The tibio femoral joint is considered as two separate compartments, the part on the inside of the leg is known as the medial tibio femoral joint, and the outside called the lateral tibio femoral joint.

Arthritis can affect any of these parts of the knee, in some people each of the compartments will have arthritis in others only one may be affected. Often the pain is a good indicator of the part of the knee that is affected. In a knee where the pain is primarily at the front it is most likely that the patella femoral (knee cap) joint is implicated, in those with pain on the inside of the knee joint, the medial tibio femoral joint, and on the outside the lateral tibio femoral joint. Additionally if arthritis affecting the medial tibio femoral joint is severe the legs can have a bow legged appearance if the lateral part has more arthritis then the legs become knock kneed.

Unloader Knee Brace for Osteoarthritis

For arthritis that is in the medial or lateral tibiofemoral joint only it has been shown that a particular knee brace which is known as an unloader (they are sometimes also referred to as an offloader knee brace) is effective in reducing pain.

The idea is that the brace slightly alters the alignment of the knee, meaning that the body's weight is redirected through a part of the knee that has less or no arthritis, and thus, although the underlying condition is unchanged, less pain is experienced and many people are able to return to playing sports such as golf or walking, along with their normal day to day activities with less pain and more enjoyment.

A study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in 2005 looked at patients with medial compartment osteoarthritis using a normal knee brace and an unloader knee brace. More pain relief and consequent increase in function was gained when the offloader knee brace was worn.

One of the good aspects of trying a knee brace is that they can be used by almost everyone. The only people who should not use an unloader knee brace are those who have skin or circulation problems around the joint, those whose osteoarthritis affect both the inside and outside of the knee joint or joints that are very unstable. Knee braces have few side effects, the only thing to watch out for is to make sure that the brace is fitted properly so that the skin doesn't become sore or broken through rubbing.

Several companies offer OA unloader braces, Ossur and Donjoy are two of the market leaders.

The Donjoy OA adjuster knee brace is recommended by the Arthritis Foundation for ease of use.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is written to help you understand the role of knee braces in the management of osteoarthritis. There are many possible causes for knee pain and should you have any concerns you should always seek advice from a qualified health professional such as a Chartered Physiotherapist or your GP.

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About the author

Jane Hodgson - Chartered Physiotherapist Jane Hodgson Jane specialises in lower body injuries and has raced competitively in running, orienteering and adventure racing.

Did you know

People with osteoarthritis of one part of the knee who started to use an unloader knee brace reported having to take less pain killers (podium presentation AAOA conference 2010)

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