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 joint. Special hinges redistribute the weight to stronger parts of the joint. There are different unloader braces suitable for all severities of arthritis, mild, moderate and severe, but work best when only one side of the knee is affected.”
These are more advanced products and can be fitted to your leg, so they do carry the highest price tag. For people who suffer from severe knee pain, however, these devices can help them avoid surgery and continue doing the activities they love.
Which knee brace is best for arthritis?
Based on knee braces for arthritis reviews and patient testimonials, we’ve created a list of the best knee braces for arthritis. In this list, we focus on braces for mild to moderate pain. If you suffer from more severe pain, your doctor will have additional suggestions for custom-fitted unloader knee braces.
Do note that Pain Doctor doesn’t endorse any of these products, nor do we receive any money from affiliate ads. Always talk to your doctor before using a knee brace to ensure that it will help your specific pain condition.
Style: Compression sleeve with customizable options, closed patella
Rating: 5 stars
Best for: Patients with mild arthritis pain who need strong support during exercise. It’s highly customizable for a sleeve too, with three sizes and two compression levels of moderate or high. In Med Consumers’s 2017 review of knee braces, this was the top buy. Over 7,000 Amazon shoppers agree with a 5-star rating. Med Consumers notes:
“If you don’t need an open-patella design because of knee cap pain, this compression sleeve is one of the best available for mild to moderate arthritis. Though it provides nice, snug support once on, it is easy to pull up and it doesn’t slip, slide or roll during activity like some sleeve style braces.”
Style: Plus-sized and above compression sleeve with closed patella
Rating: 4.6 stars
Best for: Patients with mild pain from arthritis or an injury. This is also a good option for a plus size knee brace for arthritis, as their XL fits knees up to 24.5″.
Style: Customizable, advanced knee support with open patella
Rating: 4.5 stars
Best for: Patients who are looking for affordable knee braces for arthritis pain during exercise. This is one of the most highly-rated knee braces for arthritis on Amazon, with hundreds of reviews.
Style: Open patella support sleeve with adjustable straps
Rating: 4 stars
Best for: Patients who need an affordable knee brace for arthritis pain during exercise. This one has thousands of Amazon reviews, and promises to be adjustable up to 18″.
Style: Advanced knee support sleeve with open patella
Rating: 4.5 stars
Best for: Patients who need a plus size knee brace for arthritis. This brace fits knee circumferences up to 21.7″. It provides support during sports or any activity, and is non-bulky and easy to wear. Over 1,800 Amazon reviewers have given this brace 4.5 stars.
Style: Wrap-around, customizable support with open patella
Rating: 5 stars
Best for: Patients who want a light-weight knee brace they can wear during sports, that is also highly-affordable and highly-rated.
Style: Lightweight customizable knee brace, with open patella
Rating: 4.5 stars
Best for: Patients who need an open patella brace that’s highly supportive. This is another top-rated knee brace in the Med Consumers post. They note that:
“This brace has alternating Velcro straps and 4 spring stabilizers ensuring that support is uniform around the knee. This level of support makes the knee feel very stable during walking or standing. Made of special, moisture-wicking neoprene, the brace keeps the knee area drier than others we tried but still didn’t slip or roll during the day.”
It’s also a good fit for patients who need a plus size knee brace for arthritis. This brace fits knee circumferences up to 24″.
Style: Double metal-hinged brace with self-adjusting bands and open patella
Rating: 4.5 stars
Best for: If you suffer from moderate knee pain, this brace provides extra support with two hinged metal braces on the sides. Patients can customize the fit with straps, or self-adjusting straps above and below the knee add support.
Style: Double disc-hinged brace with thick neoprene sleeve
Rating: 4.1 stars
Best for: Patients with moderate knee pain who need support during exercise. Provides support with hinges, prevents hyperextension, customized with adjustable fasteners, and heat retention with sleeve.
Style: Slim, lightweight unloader knee brace
Rating: 4.8 stars
Best for: For those who suffer from moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis pain, an unloader brace provides the best support. This highly-functional model comes from Donjoy, one of the best producers of more advanced knee braces. This one in particular was awarded a commendation for ease of use by the Arthritis Foundation. It also comes in XXXL sizes.
What are the best knee braces for arthritis?
These ten braces give you lots of affordable options for mild to moderate arthritis pain. Which one you choose–and which one is best for you–will depend on:
- Where your pain is located
- How severe your arthritis is
Based on most of these factors, though, these ten are the best knee braces for arthritis, for their support and price. However, if you suffer from severe arthritis, you’ll likely benefit more from a custom-fitted brace. Talk to your doctor about these options. They are more expensive, but if you experience severe arthritis that stops you from enjoying the activities you love, they can be life-changing.
As always, talk to your doctor before trying any new brace, as some may worsen your symptoms. Even the best knee braces for arthritis pain won’t work for you if they’re not best-suited to treat your specific type of pain. Once you’ve been approved to try a knee brace, the following video discusses how to find the one that’s the right size for you.
Before you use a knee brace for arthritis
While knee braces are a non-invasive option for managing your pain, they still have a few cautions. As Family Doctor points out they shouldn’t be your sole treatment approach:
“Knee braces are the least important part of preventing knee injuries or healing after an injury. Good strength and flexibility are much more important. You should focus on stretching the muscles around your knee, strengthening your leg, and improving your techniques. Make changes in activity intensity or training schedules little by little, to limit knee stress. Work out an exercise plan with your doctor to get the best program for you. Knee braces help some people more than others. You can use one if you feel it’s helping you. But don’t let a brace become a ‘crutch.'”
Likewise, your treatment for knee osteoarthritis doesn’t just stop with using a brace. Once you’re able to resume exercise, you may want to look into knee injections, physical therapy, or other additional methods for reducing your pain. Together, these can come together to get you back to the life you love. A pain specialist is uniquely qualified to help you diagnose your pain, discuss the best knee braces for arthritis, and explain other treatment options. To find one in your area, click the button below.