Knee osteoarthritis is a common degenerative condition that affects 10% of men and 13% of women over the age of 60. This condition can put a serious damper on any activities you love to do. Since exercise is one of the best treatments for this condition, getting in the exercise you need is crucial. The best knee braces for arthritis pain help you find the support you need to exercise with more confidence and less pain. Here’s 10 of our top picks.
How do knee braces for arthritis work?
Over the course of your life, your knees provide the stability you need to stand up straight, to run, to jump, to climb. Over time, this joint suffers from these blows, leading to osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear condition that occurs as people age. Common symptoms include joint pain, unsteadiness, and reduced flexibility. This happens because the cartilage that typically acts as a shock absorber for your joints is lost or damaged over time, typically on one side of the knee.
As Mayo Clinic explains:
“As the damage progresses, this malalignment worsens. A knee brace can take pressure off the part of your joint most affected by osteoarthritis and help relieve pain. If your knee feels like it might buckle when you put weight on it, a knee brace can also help you stand and move around with more confidence.”
Can a knee brace help arthritis?
Knee braces for arthritis shouldn’t be a first line treatment for your condition, but they can go a long way towards relieving your osteoarthritis symptoms, especially when paired with exercise and weight loss strategies. The greatest benefits of using a knee brace for osteoarthritis symptoms include the following.
1. Reduce pain and inflammation
Knee braces provide a non-invasive option for reducing pain and getting you back to the activities you love. They do this in a number of ways, depending on the knee brace you choose. Knee sleeves for mild arthritis provide cushioning, some structure, and can keep your joints warm. Unloader knee braces for severe cases, as we’ll discuss shortly, completely redistribute the weight on your knee joint. This can relieve pressure from one area, and spread it across the knee.
And while knee braces for arthritis may not help everyone, there is some proof that they do work. A 2016 study from the American Journal of Orthopedics studied 31 knee osteoarthritis patients. Half received an unloader knee brace, while the other half did not. Researchers used knee injury and osteoarthritis outcomes scores, or KOOS, and visual analog scale (VAS) scores to evaluate outcomes.
Patients with an unloader knee brace for arthritis showed the following in their KOOS scores:
- Had significantly less pain (P < .001)
- Fewer arthritis symptoms (P = .007)
- Better ability to engage in activities of daily living (P = .008)
VAS results showed that these patients also had:
- Significantly less pain throughout the day (P = .021)
- Improved activity levels (P = .035)
The study did not find a significant difference in patient’s ability to sleep, their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or sports functioning.
2. Provide support and peace of mind
Beyond tangible pain relief, many patients claim that the best knee braces for arthritis provide them with peace of mind. If you’re active, knee braces can help cushion the knee and provide support. But some also note that the brace itself is a reminder to take it easier on the knee, and to be more mindful of the pressure they’re putting on it.
3. Get more exercise
More exercise and more activity are the top-prescribed treatment for arthritis pain. The more exercise you engage in, the better your pain and quality of life.
A knee brace for arthritis encourages more exercise, because it reduces your pain and provides the support you need to exercise confidently. Research presented at the American College of Rheumatology looked at the effects of both exercise and knee bracing. In terms of exercise, they noted that:
“At the study start and then 2 years later, patients answered questions about their quality of life. This included their energy levels, social interactions, and general health. People who exercised some said they had 10 more days of good health a year. People who met the recommended guidelines reported 20 more days of good health a year.”
Because of these results, researchers suggested a knee brace to reduce pain and encourage exercise.
4. Take less medication
The American Journal of Orthopedics study found no differences in medication usage among their braced participants. However, research presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that:
“Thirty-one percent of study participants said they took fewer over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs, and 35% were taking fewer prescription anti-inflammatory drugs after six months of wearing the brace.”
If you’re more active because of your brace, and you’re experiencing more pain relief, this suggests that you’ll also be taking less pain medications.
5. Put off surgery
For some patients, surgery is a necessary way to get their life back. But as an invasive procedure, surgery always presents a risk of complications. For moderate to severe cases of knee osteoarthritis, some patients have actually found that knee braces allow them to delay surgery or avoid it entirely.
Since a knee brace is non-invasive, you can (and should) combine it with other treatment methods. Exercise, weight loss, glucosamine supplementation, and physical therapy are all crucial components for managing knee arthritis. However, if you suffer from more severe pain, wearing a knee brace and receiving knee injections can almost relieve your pain entirely. The following video explains how a knee injection works.
Types of knee braces for arthritis pain
There are several different types of knee braces for arthritis pain:
- Basic knee sleeves
- Advanced braces and compression sleeves
- Unloader braces for severe cases
Knee sleeves for arthritis are typically recommended for patients with mild pain that worsens with activity. These are the basic knee supports you see in most drug stores. They’re affordable, easy to wear, and easy to clean. Patients generally only wear them during activity. These can provide some of the support that you’re looking for, while also reducing pain and swelling. Their compression can also help keep your knee joint warm.
Advanced support braces are similar, in that they provide compression and support. These are typically more customizable, however, with large straps to ensure a custom fit. These are also typically used during exercise for people who experience mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis pain.
Both of these types of knee braces for arthritis can be open or closed over the patella, depending on where you experience pain.
What is an unloader knee brace?
An unloader knee brace for arthritis is the most advanced type of brace support, and their use is typically reserved for people who experience moderate to severe pain. Knee-Pain-Explained.com notes why these are used:
“Unloader knee braces are specially designed to reduce the weight going through the parts of the knee affected by arthritis by changing the angle of the knee