Knee pain from osteoarthritis is no walk in the park. In fact, the pain probably keeps you from walks in the park. Could wearing a knee brace help you overcome this discomfort?

Often, arthritis affects only one compartment of the knee. This can result in your lower leg angling awkwardly and appearing “bow legged” (varus) or “knock kneed” (valgus). Special braces, called unloader braces, shift the workload from the arthritic compartment to the healthier compartment of the knee, pushing the knee toward a more normal position in the process. According to several published studies, these braces can increase the distance a patient can walk comfortably. Even better, for patients who cannot tolerate pain medications, braces can offer drug-free relief.

But unloader braces tend to be bulky and uncomfortable. Unless you invest in an expensive, custom-made brace, you may find yourself with bruised thighs and additional discomfort caused by poor fit. Nor are unloader braces suitable for all forms of osteoarthritis. Some rehabilitation specialists warn that extended or improper use of a brace can even hinder physical therapy, because it may decrease movement and circulation to the knee. Despite these caveats, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons stated in 2003 that unloader braces “may provide significant reduction in pain when properly fitted in selected patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.”

Rather than thinking of a knee brace as a cure, consider it another tool in your arsenal against arthritis–a crutch that can help you while we work toward building strength and flexibility in the knee. Talk with us about an exercise program that will strengthen the quadriceps muscles in your knee to improve the functionality of your brace. In time, you may even eliminate the need for your brace entirely.

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