Unloader knee braces are a non-surgical treatment for osteoarthritis. They decrease the load taken through the worn part of the knee, reducing the symptoms of pain and swelling. The are rapidly gaining popularity as younger people with knee arthritis look to avoid joint replacement surgery.

As the general population ages, osteoarthritis is becoming a much bigger issue in society as the costs for surgical intervention grow exponentially. The traditional treatment model of using painkillers until the pain is unbearable then replacing the joint is now being challenged.
Doctors are now looking at managing every stage of the disease process, aiming to delay the need for more drastic surgery.

Osteoarthritis is characterized by the loss of the smooth articular cartilage that cover joint surfaces. There are many factors that contribute to the development of osteoarthritis including obesity, sex (women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis), advanced age, previous joint injuries, and occupation.

As cost effectiveness becomes more of an issue, osteoarthritis treatment focus will be looking to find less expensive, non-surgical methods. The use of unloader knee braces is likely to become more prominent because of these factors.

There is good evidence to support other non-surgical treatments such as weight loss and exercise but the uptake of these has been limited due to the will power and persistence required to make them work. Unloader knee braces can be used by anyone with unicompartmental osteoarthritis and the benefits are often immediate.

Unloader braces work by applying a force to the knee that shifts the weight from the affected half of the knee back onto the unaffected side. They do not make the knee “unworn” but decrease symptoms by reducing the load on the area causing the pain. The unaffected half of the knee is generally in very good condition as it has not been taking its fair share of the load for many years

There are a variety of different braces on the market, some with a single hinge and some with hinges on either side of the knee. They work by different mechanisms but share the same goal of providing symptomatic relief of pain and stiffness.

Unloader knee braces are not suitable for every type of arthritis. They should not be used by those suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis. They are also contraindicated for those with osteoarthritis in both the medial and lateral compartments of the knee.

The type of person most suited to an unloader knee brace is someone with confined unicompartmental osteoarthritis who is looking to avoid joint replacement surgery. Unloader braces are low profile but men are often happier to wear them than women. They are also frequently used by those who are considering High Tibial Osteotomy surgery in the future.

Anyone diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis at an early age should investigate all of the various treatment options including both surgical and non-surgical interventions. Being informed will help you understand the recommendations being made by your Orthopaedic Surgeon once they have assessed your knee and taken into account your age and situation. Better information leads to better decision making when choosing the treatment that will affect your future.

Author's Bio: 

Jonny Newt is a Physical Therapist with over 10 years experience helping people deal with the pain of osteoarthritis. He runs a number of information websites including The Arthritic Knee and Unloader Knee Brace