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.

A quick look at the best knee braces for arthritis

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.

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 study, 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 the person’s recovery.

Best knee braces for arthritis 2023

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more.

Best for heavy-duty support: Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Support with Bilateral Hinges

  • Price: around $75
  • Sizes: small, medium, large, XL, 2XL, 3XL
  • Type: open patella
  • Main features: heavy-duty bilateral hinges and stitching, vented N-tex neoprene for airflow

This knee support may provide strong support due to the heavy-duty bilateral hinges and premium stitching to provide patella support and maintain a range of motion. It also provides aluminum stability to prevent slipping.

The material is vented N-tex neoprene to promote airflow and wick away moisture.

The positive reviews about this product mentionED good support and comfort. However, some negative reviews reported difficulty fastening the velcro and that the sizing was inaccurate.

Best for athletes: Bauerfeind Sports Knee Support

  • Price: around $90
  • Sizes: XS, small, medium, large, XL, 2XL
  • Type: compression sleeve
  • Main features: gentle compression suitable for sports, contoured pad to disperse pressure

According to Bauerfeind, this knee support provides gentle compression to support the knee during sports and exercise. The company says this reduces overuse from high impact and limits knee strain.

The company also says the anatomically contoured pad surrounding the kneecap disperses pressure to reduce the risk of injury.

There are three colors to choose from and six sizes.

Positive reviews reported that the product offers good support and is worth the price. However, some more negative reviews mentioned the sleeve falling down the leg and not fitting individuals with larger thighs.

Best for post-op: Orthomen OA Unloader Knee Brace

  • Price: around $130
  • Sizes: one size fits most
  • Type: hinged
  • Main features: 13 adjustable dials to limit range of motion, Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and Health Savings Account (HSA) eligible

This hinged knee brace has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and is suitable for use after operations on the knee.

The company states that it has 13 adjustable dials to limit a person’s range of motion, which can help support recovery after injury.

This brace is one size fits most, with people able to adjust the straps to fit thighs up to 32 inches in circumference.

This product is eligible for FSA and HSA payments. Some reviewers stated that it is beneficial for osteoporosis and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. However, others say it is difficult to put the brace on correctly.

Knee brace for arthritis comparison

Below is a comparison table featuring all of the above knee braces.

PriceSizesTypeMain features
Shock Doctoraround $75S–3XLopen patella• heavy duty bilateral hinges and stitching
• vented N-tex neoprene for breathability
Bauerfeindaround $90XS–2XLcompression sleeve• gentle compression suitable for sports
• contoured pad to disperse pressure
Orthomenaround $130one sizehinged• 13 adjustable dials to limit motion
• FSA and HSA eligible

How we chose

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Price: MNT chooses products available for a wide range of budgets.
  • Reputable: MNT chooses products from businesses that adhere to industry best practices.
  • Materials: MNT chooses products that use safe and durable materials and fabrics that are easy to clean.
  • Sizing: MNT chooses products available for various body shapes and sizes.
  • Quality: MNT chooses companies that adhere to high quality manufacturing processes.
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How to shop for knee braces

A person can consider the following when shopping for a knee brace:

  • Sizing: The knee brace must stay in place during use. People need to always check the manufacturer’s sizing guide to ensure they purchase the right size.
  • Type: Some may prefer an open patella sleeve to relieve knee pressure and allow for more flexibility. However, others may require a closed compression sleeve, which will compress the knee cap and add extra support in this area.
  • Material: A person may wish to consider looking for a product with a lightweight and breathable material. People need to remember they may wear this for some time, so comfort is important. Additionally, some products may include latex that some individuals may be allergic to or sensitive to.
  • Support level: Knee braces offer differing support levels. For example, those offering the most support may limit movement more than those allowing more flexibility. A person needs to consider how much support they require.
  • Price: Individuals need to consider their budget when purchasing a knee brace.

Is a knee brace helpful for arthritis pain?

A knee brace is an orthosis, which is a device that fits 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 no extensive studies on this topic. Those that exist found the benefits of a knee brace may be limited. Several of the studies are below.

Low-grade evidence of benefits

A 2019 study 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 a 2022 review, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the use of functional braces following ACL reconstruction surgery. The researchers conclude that evidence is lacking to suggest that functional braces improve clinical outcomes, reduce tearing of grafts, or improve return-to-sport rates.

Possible benefits of sleeve braces

The goal of a 2019 study was to determine if knee sleeve braces can help alleviate pain and other knee problems related to early knee osteoarthritis.

The results suggest that simple knee sleeves can provide significant pain reduction and increased walking speed after six months of knee sleeve treatment. This treatment may also slow down disease progression.

Study advised more professional oversight of knee braces

An old study from 2016 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 to educate people on the use of braces and encourage them to contact a physical therapist if their brace needs an adjustment.

Which knee type is best for certain conditions?

The Arthritis Foundation (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 the 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 typical 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. Individuals 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.

Frequently asked questions about knee braces for arthritis

Here we answer some common questions about these products.

Is it okay to wear a knee brace all day?

Usually, people only wear knee braces when they require extra support during activities, such as exercising.

However, if an orthopedist recommends doing so, a person can wear a knee brace all day.

Do I wear a knee brace over or under pants?

People may find that a knee brace does not slip if they wear the brace under clothes.

When should you not wear a knee brace?

People should not wear a knee brace if a healthcare professional recommends against using the product. Additionally, they should only use knee braces when they require extra support.

Summary

Research on the effectiveness of knee braces for people with arthritis is inconclusive, although the AF suggests the devices can be beneficial.

If people wish to use a knee brace for arthritis, it is best to ask their doctor for a specific recommendation. A brace may reduce pain and provide support in walking and exercising, but there is not a one-size-fits-all type that helps everyone.