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Knee braces - unloading

Alternative Names

Unloading brace

Osteoarthritis of the Knee

When most people talk about the arthritis in their knees, they are referring to a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear inside your knee joints.

  • Cartilage, the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions all of your bones and joints, lets the bones glide over one another.
  • If the cartilage wears away, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
  • Bony spurs or growths form and the ligaments and muscles around the knee become weaker. Over time, your whole knee becomes stiffer and stiffer.

Unloading Braces for Knee Arthritis

In some people, arthritis may affect mostly the inside of the knee. This may be because the inside of the knee often bears more of a person's weight than the outside of the knee.

A special brace called an "unloading brace" may help take some of the pressure off the worn part of your knee when you are standing.

An unloading brace does not cure your arthritis. But it may help relieve symptoms such as knee pain or buckling when you move around. People who want to delay having knee replacement surgery may want to try using unloading braces.

There are 2 types of unloading braces:

  • An orthotist can make a custom fitted unloading brace. You will need a prescription from your doctor. These braces often cost over $1,000 and insurance may not pay for them.
  • Unloading braces may be bought in different sizes at a medical device store without a prescription. These braces cost a few hundred dollars.

It is not clear how well unloading braces work. Some people say they have fewer symptoms when they use them. Some medical studies have tested these braces. But this research has not proven whether or not unloading braces provide help for people with knee arthritis.

References

Hui C, Thompson SR, Giffin JR. Knee arthritis. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 103.

Paluska SA. Knee braces. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 193.

Review Date:7/13/2015
Reviewed By:C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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