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Knee Braces for Osteoarthritis

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on August 24, 2020

If you have osteoarthritis, you may be familiar with the pain, stiffness, and limited flexibility from your bone rubbing on bone. And the most common place where your symptoms show up are in your knees.

Medications, exercise, and other therapies may help. Another option may be a knee brace to ease the pressure on your joints.

Benefits of Braces

Research isn’t clear if or how much difference knee braces can make for people with osteoarthritis. Some people see an improvement in their pain and mobility. Others don’t see any change.

Osteoarthritis usually affects one side of your knee more than the other. Braces may lighten the pressure in the part of your knee most affected by wear and tear and help you to stand and move around more easily. It also may help:

Align your knee. A brace that keeps your knee straight shifts weight away from the inside of your knee (which is closer to the other knee) and offers support.

Ease pain. If you have osteoarthritis under your kneecap, a brace with a cutout can help to keep the bone in place and soothe pain. It also may make exercise more bearable so you can strengthen the muscles around your knees.

Allow ligaments to heal. Some braces will keep your knee locked into place or allow it to bend and recover after injury or surgery.

Risks of Braces

Trying out a knee brace usually is safe. It may be uncomfortable, hot, and heavy at first. Possible problems include:

Swelling and irritation. If your knee brace doesn’t fit well, it could irritate your skin and cause your knee to swell.

Stiffness. Wearing a brace may keep you from putting weight on your knee, which can lead to joint stiffness.

Knee Brace Fitting

Your doctor may send you to an orthotist, a health care professional who makes and fits braces and splints for people with bone, joint, muscle, and ligament problems. Your doctor or the orthotist will let you know when to wear your knee brace and show you how to put it on and take it off. You could wear it all the time or only when you’re active.

During your visit, the orthotist will look at your knee, take measurements, and ask you to walk a few steps to see how your knee works. You could also talk about:

  • Your osteoarthritis symptoms
  • Your activity goals
  • The pros and cons of a custom vs off-the-shelf braces
  • Different brace designs
  • Which style feels best after you try them on

Types of Knee Braces

If your orthotist has a ready-made knee brace in your size, you can take it home right away. If not, they’ll need to make a custom brace just for you, which could take a few weeks.

There are different types of knee braces depending on how bad your knee pain is and the location of your arthritis (under the kneecap, outside or inside of the leg):

Sleeve brace. This most common type of brace is for mild knee pain or stiffness. It offers extra support and compresses your leg, which can ease swelling and warm the knee joint.

Web brace. While a sleeve brace gives overall support, the silicone webbing on a web brace tightens in specific places as you bend and straighten your knee.

Unloader brace. This brace has metal bands that wrap around your thigh and calf and connect to a hinged bar. It creates an adjustable frame that helps you to shift pressure on your knee.

Knee braces can cost $10 to $1,000. You can buy a sleeve brace from a pharmacy, medical supply store, or on the internet. Custom braces are the priciest. If you have health insurance, check if your policy covers them.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Osteoarthritis,” “Knee braces for osteoarthritis.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Could a Knee Brace Help Ease Your Osteoarthritis Pain?”

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: “Arthritis of the Knee.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Knee Bracing: What Works?”

Arthritis Foundation: “4 Ways a Knee Brace Can Help Knee Arthritis.”

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