Osteoarthritis is a common degenerative joint condition that can affect the knees. A knee unloader brace can reduce the load on the damaged area, relieving pain and improving stability.

This specialized brace is an effective nonsurgical intervention for people seeking relief from knee osteoarthritis. While it can help a person delay a possible future surgery, they can also use a knee brace to recover after surgery.

Learn more about how knee unloader braces work, their benefits, how to use them, and questions to ask a doctor.

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An unloader knee brace has a sturdy frame constructed from lightweight materials, such as aluminum, carbon fiber, or plastic.

The frame generally consists of a thigh support above the knee and a calf support below, connected by hinges. Adjustable straps secure the brace, ensuring a snug and comfortable fit.

The main function of a brace is to redistribute weight-bearing forces within the knee joint.

In knee osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions and protects the bones in the knee joint begin to deteriorate. The unloader knee brace works by applying corrective forces through its hinges and struts.

This helps realign the knee joint, offloading pressure from the damaged area and relieving symptoms.

People with medial knee arthritis — a type of osteoarthritismay use an unloader brace for the following reasons:

  • Pain relief: Redistributing the weight-bearing load can relieve discomfort and pain.
  • Improved mobility: A person may have an increased range of motion and improved joint stability with the brace.
  • Delaying surgery: Doctors may recommend using an unloader knee brace before considering surgery.
  • Postsurgical support: Some individuals may benefit from an unloader knee brace after knee surgery as they recover.
  • Activity-specific support: People engaging in sports or physically demanding activities may use unloader knee braces for added support and protection.

An unloader knee brace offers numerous benefits for people with knee osteoarthritis.

The brace’s structural support lessens the pressure on the joint, allowing it to bear weight more evenly and reducing the risk of further damage. In some cases, extended use of the brace eliminates the need for knee replacement surgery.

An unloader brace provides pain relief and supports mobility, allowing people to maintain their everyday activities and remain active. This is beneficial in improving the quality of life for those living with knee osteoarthritis.

While unloader knee braces can offer significant benefits for individuals with osteoarthritis, there are some potential risks and side effects. These include:

  • Improper fit: A poorly fitting brace can lead to discomfort, skin irritation, pressure sores, or a worsening of symptoms. Therefore, a person should work with a healthcare professional to ensure the brace is appropriately sized and adjusted.
  • Muscle atrophy: Overreliance on an unloader knee brace can result in muscle atrophy or weakening. Combining the use of the brace with a guided exercise and physical therapy program can help maintain muscle strength and mobility.
  • Allergic reactions: In rare cases, individuals may have an allergic reaction to the materials of the unloader knee brace. They should consult a healthcare professional for guidance if any signs of an allergic reaction occur, such as rash, itching, or swelling.

Before using an unloader knee brace, a person can determine whether it is appropriate for them by consulting a doctor. They can also provide guidance on the best type of brace and ensure it fits properly.

A person should follow the instructions provided by the brace manufacturer.

Generally, they should ensure they position the brace correctly with the hinges aligned with the knee joint. They should fasten the straps securely but not too tight.

It can take time to become accustomed to the brace, so a person should begin by wearing it for short periods. Then, they can gradually increase the duration as they become more comfortable.

Inspect the brace periodically for signs of wear or damage, such as cracks, frayed straps, or loose hinges. A person should also clean the brace according to the manufacturer’s guidelines and ensure all components are in good working order.

They should check the skin under and around the brace for signs of irritation, chafing, or pressure sores. Make any necessary adjustments to the brace or contact a healthcare professional if issues persist.

A doctor can make adjustments or suggest alternatives if a person experiences increased pain, swelling, or discomfort while using the unloader knee brace.

There are several questions a person can ask a doctor when considering using an unloader knee brace for osteoarthritis.

They include:

  • Is an unloader knee brace suitable for my type and severity of knee osteoarthritis?
  • What are the potential benefits and risks of using an unloader knee brace?
  • What is the best type and design of unloader knee brace for me?
  • How long should I wear the unloader knee brace each day?
  • Can you suggest any specific exercises or physical therapy?
  • Are there any signs or symptoms that would indicate I should discontinue using the unloader knee brace?
  • Are there other nonsurgical treatment options available for managing knee osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis unloader knee braces can provide pain relief and support from arthritis, improving mobility and quality of life. They work by shifting pressure from the damaged parts of the knee.

People can consult a doctor to determine whether an unloader brace is appropriate for them. A doctor can recommend a brace and ensure it fits correctly, allowing optimal benefit.