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Knee braces for arthritis: What to know | BY HEIDI


A knee brace for arthritis provides support that may reduce kneecap pain and improve a person’s mobility and confidence. A brace may also keep joints in alignment and allow ligaments to heal after surgery.

That information comes from the Arthritis Foundation (AF).

Knee damage can occur with osteoarthritis because the condition may result in erosion of the cartilage cushioning the ends of the bones. It can also occur with rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the lining of the joints. Both conditions can cause pain, weakness, and impaired function.

This article discusses the effectiveness of knee braces for people with arthritis, and looks at the different types of braces.

Is a knee brace helpful for arthritis pain?

A knee brace is an orthosis, which is a device that fits to a person’s body with the aim of helping to do one of several things, depending on a person’s condition:

correct a deformity

control alignment

protect an injury from further damage

A knee brace may be helpful for arthritis, although there are not extensive studies on this topic. Those that exist found the benefits of a knee brace may be limited. Several of the studies are described below.

Low-grade evidence of benefits

A 2018 studyTrusted Source set out to review recent research to try to determine more clearly the role of orthoses in arthritis treatment. It found low-grade evidence that knee braces can reduce the pain and stiffness associated with knee osteoarthritis. It found knee braces may also increase function and quality of life for people. However, the authors noted that there is no determination yet of the ideal type of brace for knee osteoarthritis.

Unproven benefit of functional braces after knee surgery

In research from 2017Trusted Source, scientists investigated the effectiveness of the use of functional braces following the surgical repair of a knee ligament. After evaluating data from 15 studies, they concluded that the functional brace’s effectiveness is unproven. While some data suggests the braces offer a benefit, limited evidence supports the routine use of braces after surgery.

Possible benefits of sleeve braces

The goal of a 2017 studyTrusted Source was to determine if knee sleeve braces can significantly help with knee problems, specifically biomechanical issues. After selecting and reviewing 20 research papers published from 2005–2015, the authors found that 12 studies suggested that the sleeves may be beneficial for balance and gait for a person with osteoarthritic knees.

In addition, the 12 studies suggested that the sleeves could help a person with injured knees function better. However, the remaining eight studies did not show any significant benefits.

The authors concluded that more studies are needed on effectiveness of knee sleeves.

Study advised more professional oversight of knee braces

A 2016 studyTrusted Source reviewed studies published up to 2015 that explored the benefits of braces in individuals with osteoarthritis. It found weak evidence of effectiveness for unloader braces, sleeve knee braces, and taping.

The authors recommended that before a person uses a brace, a healthcare professional should check it for suitability. They also mentioned the need for educating people in the use of braces and encouraging them to contact a physical therapist if their brace needs an adjustment.

Types of knee braces

Traditional types of knee braces include:

Functional: For protection and support following an injury

Rehabilitative: To protect motion after either surgery or an injury

Patellofemoral: To keep the kneecap in correct alignment and reduce knee pain.

Prophylactic: To reduce or prevent knee injuries in some sports

However, not all types of braces may be effective or suitable for a person with knee osteoarthritis.

New technologies

According to a 2019 studyTrusted Source, new technologies may help with knee joint rehabilitation during therapy.

These include a new type of functional knee brace, which may help strengthen muscles, improve a person’s mobility, and reduce pain.

Another option is ambulating extension deficit/flexion contracture rehabilitative functional bracing. A person can use this new type of brace in place of a brace typically used during the night.

The study concluded that the new braces could be used in combination with physical therapy for a person who had knee surgery for osteoarthritis, and could help with the outcome of the treatment and person’s recovery.


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Which knee type is best for certain conditions?

The AF notes that common knee braces include the unloader, hinged, neoprene with a cutout for the knee cap, and neoprene sleeve. Here is more detail on each:

Unloader brace

A doctor may recommend an unloader brace for a person with arthritis that affects the part of the knee closest to the body’s midline. The brace pushes the knee into correct position, which takes pressure off the inside of the joint and puts more pressure on the outside of the joint.

The unloader has two benefits: relieving pain and preventing the knee from giving out.

Hinged knee brace

A doctor may advise using a hinged knee brace for individuals who have either of two types of ligament injuries.

One is an injury to the medial collateral ligament. This is the ligament on the side of the knee closest to the body’s midline. A hinged knee brace gives support, which permits the joint to heal.

The other is an injury to the interior collateral ligament. This is the ligament on the front of the knee. When the ligament tears, a doctor surgically repairs it. Afterward, a drop lock hinged brace immobilizes the knee in the locked position. It also supports the knee during bending when in the unlocked position.

Neoprene brace with a cutout for the knee cap

Doctors recommend this type of brace for a person with soft or weak cartilage under the knee that causes pain. It relieves discomfort and helps keep the knee in the normal position.

In addition, it can enable someone to perform exercises that strengthen the quadriceps, the muscles on the front of the thigh. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee helps prevent injuries. An individual may purchase these braces from sporting goods stores, pharmacies, or online.

Neoprene sleeve

This type of brace provides compression and warmth, which helps reduce swelling. It gives a person confidence and a feeling of support when doing activities that involve the knee joint. The brace may also serve as a reminder to be careful with the knee during physical activity. It is available from sporting goods stores, pharmacies, or online.