The use of a knee brace can reduce the pain associated with arthritisarthritis and can also increase stability. There are several different types of braces available. They vary in the amount of support that they provide. In general, the more supportive braces are bulkier. Typically, it is advised to use one of these braces when you are walking and to remove them when sitting or sleeping.
A simple brace is an elastic sleeve that gets pulled up onto the knee. It comes in two varieties, with and without a central hole for the knee cap. Studies have shown that an elastic sleeve can reduce the symptoms of arthritis by improving the patient’s awareness of muscle and joint movement (proprioception).
This increased awareness of knee joint position helps patients improve their balance, and their ability to dynamically control the knee. Additionally, the constant tactical stimuli of the brace may also reduce the sensitivity of pain sensors (nerves) in the knee. Some patients may combine the use of this brace with a taping technique that can reduce stress off of the knee cap.
The neoprene sleeve is the least expensive of the three types of braces, and is available at many retail stores.
The next type of brace is more supportive and incorporates a hinge joint and struts on the sides of the brace. This brace can frequently be adjusted for tightness by Velcro straps. The hinged brace is heavier and more supportive than a neoprene sleeve, yet can frequently be worn underneath loosely fitted pants. This brace can be helpful to wear when significant physical activity is expected. It may also reduce the chance of the knee suddenly giving out which can cause a fall.
A hinge knee brace is especially useful for patients who have some ligament instability. This brace can help support an arthritic knee that has some imbalance in the MCL or LCL ligamentsMCL or LCL ligaments. Caution should be used with this brace to avoid making it too tight and thus putting to much pressure on the knee around the hinge joint. Many insurance plans will provide benefits that covers a portion of the cost or possibly the entire cost of this brace. Frequently, an orthopaedic office can directly provide this brace to their patients.
Sometime the arthritisarthritis becomes so bad that the knee develops a significant bow leg or knock-knee deformity. In this situation a custom brace called an “unloader” may be used to help re-align the knee. This brace reduces the strain on the part of the knee that has the worst arthritis. Studies have found that there is a reduction of pain and improvement of activity level with the use of an unloader brace. This brace is most effective when the knee deformity is not contracted or fixed in the angulated position. Your surgeon can help you determine this.
An unloader brace may be off-the-shelf with custom adjustments made to fit the patient, or may need to be completely custom fabricated. These types of braces are typically expensive and insurance companies provide various levels of benefits to cover the costs.
Brace management is most effective when used in conjunction with other non-operative treatment methods. Unfortunately, patients who are obese may not have the same level of benefit from the use of braces due to the body habits of the leg.