Brace Yourself For Less Knee Pain

Do you have knee osteoarthritis? Wearing a knee brace could ease pain and boost function, according to one review.

An older woman grips her knee in pain, wondering if knee support or a brace will help.

Medically reviewed in October 2021

If osteoarthritis (OA) is stopping you in your tracks, consider trying a knee brace for pain. A 2014 analysis of several trials published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research showed that the devices can alleviate aches and improve knee function

Knee braces work by realigning the joint to reduce the weight load on damaged areas. The analysis looked at valgus braces, sometimes called unloader braces. They protect the medial (inner) side of the knee, the part most often affected by OA. Injuries, misalignment and excess weight all can wear away the cushioning in this side of the knee, leading to pain. There are additional types of braces that can ease pressure on other areas of the knee, particularly under the kneecap. 

In the analysis, researchers at the University of Western Ontario crunched data from six studies including 445 patients with knee pain or knee arthritis, ranging in age from 34 to 73. Some of the studies compared treatment using a valgus knee brace to not wearing any type of brace or correcting device (orthosis). Others looked at valgus braces versus other types of orthoses, such as shoe inserts. People wore the braces either as needed, for four hours a day, during physical activity or all day. 

In studies where the braces were used alone, patients saw moderate improvements in both their OA pain and knee function. And in studies that compared the valgus knee brace with another type of orthosis, the brace did a better job of relieving pain, though it didn’t show any more benefit to the knee’s function. For many people, knee braces make it possible to walk farther, with less pain. 

Experts point out, though, that to really get results, you have to wear the brace consistently. Overall, about 1 in 4 people in the studies had minor issues with the braces, such as skin chafing or a poor fit. In some of the trials, more than half the people didn’t wear them as recommended. 

If you think a knee brace may be helpful for your OA pain, ask your healthcare provider (HCP). The HCP or an orthotist can find the best brace for your knee problem and show you how to use it. Braces are usually made of hard plastic or metal for support, with rubber and foam for cushioning. You can buy some off-the-shelf, while others can be custom-made to fit you. 

Article sources open article sources

RF Moyer, TB Birmingham, et al. “Valgus Bracing for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Trials.” Arthritis Care & Research. September 8, 2014.

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