Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition that can affect any of your joints. When you have OA, it’s not unusual to experience pain and stiffness in your knees. Some people with arthritis have found that a knee brace can help.
A knee brace can help with arthritis pain and stiffness by providing support to the joint as you walk. A brace may also give you more confidence in your stability as you complete your daily activities.
Many knee braces are available, but not all of them will work well for arthritis. We did the work of narrowing down which knee braces work best for arthritis. Read on to find out which one might be a good fit for you.
We selected the knee braces on this list based on the following criteria:
Verified customer reviews: We read hundreds of customer reviews to get a feel for what people love about these products and the red flags to look out for.
Peer-reviewed literature: Dozens of published, peer-reviewed studies have investigated whether knee braces help with arthritis pain and other symptoms. We used these studies to determine what was most important in a knee brace for arthritis (see below for more information).
Materials and construction:We looked for durable and, wherever possible, washable products so they’ll last you a long time.
Brand reputation: We looked at each company’s reputation to ensure customers can confidently trust the product’s safety, quality, and effectiveness. We also favored companies with excellent customer service policies.
Though much research has been done on knee braces and osteoarthritis, the results are mixed. Many studies show pain relief and better knee function when people wear knee braces. More research is needed on the long-term benefits of knee braces and comparing the different types of knee braces.
What we do know is thatdifferent types of braces work for different people. Some people with OA find a lot of relief and improvement of their symptoms with braces, while studies show that others may not. Factors such as the type and severity of OA, the person’s age, body weight, activity level, and overall joint health can influence the outcomes.
Here’s what some of the research has shown:
Unloader knee braces: Some studies have suggested that knee braces, particularly unloader knee braces, can provide pain relief for people with knee osteoarthritis. Unloader (or offloading) braces work by redistributing the workload away from the damaged part of the knee joint. Research has shown that some people experience reduced pain and improved mobility when wearing these braces, although they are relatively cumbersome.
Customized braces: Custom-fitted knee braces, particularly unloader braces, are often more effective than off-the-shelf braces. Customization allows for a more precise fit and load distribution, which can enhance the benefits of the brace and reduce the risk of injury or discomfort.
Soft braces: Soft braces, the easiest to buy and wear, have also been shown to relieve OA-related pain.
Hinged knee braces: Hinged knee braces, as well as general knee braces, may help improve functional outcomes, such as walking and exercise, for people with knee osteoarthritis. They can provide stability to the knee joint, making it easier for people to do their daily living activities and exercise.
Combination treatments: Research has also shown that knee braces can be more effective when combined with other treatments, such as physical therapy, exercise, and weight management. Combining these approaches can lead to better overall results in managing knee osteoarthritis.
In short, a lot of research is investigating the use of a knee brace to help with osteoarthritis symptoms. It is vital to ensure your brace fits well, is the right type (support sleeve, unloader, hinged) for your severity of symptoms, and to work with a doctor or physical therapist to get the best results from your brace.
Wearing a poorly fitted brace can increase discomfort or pain. If you aren’t sure what type of brace to select or how to fit it properly, consider calling a doctor (particularly an orthopedist or rheumatologist) or physical therapist.
But it’s also important to know that there is limited long-term research on the benefits of knee braces for osteoarthritis. It’s unknown whether wearing a knee brace will slow the progression of OA. It’s essential to discuss with your healthcare professional whether using a knee brace is appropriate for your long-term management plan.
The goal of all of the knee braces on this list is to help the tendons and ligaments in your knee stabilize the joint. Most braces stabilize by compression or through straps that tighten around your knee. When your joint is stabilized, it may minimize the pain you feel as you go about your day.
In a 2017 study of people with osteoarthritis, participants wearing a soft knee brace had lower pain levels while walking and took less time to complete a 10-kilometer walk than when not wearing a knee brace.
In that same study, a tight brace — defined by a measurement of the lower leg and thigh circumference — was found to help reduce walking time even more for study participants.
For people with rheumatoid arthritis, some rheumatologists prescribe medical-grade braces as a first-line treatment for pain in the knee.
Even if you don’t have a prescription for this type of medical device, you can get one:
To choose the best knee brace for your needs, consider the following:
Type: Decide if you prefer a sleeve or wraparound design. Some braces feature hinges, an open patella, and a padded knee ring.
Support level: Decide how much support you want, which may vary during different activities. High-support braces may restrict mobility, and low-support options offer more flexibility.
Comfort and fit: Choose a lightweight, breathable, supportive, yet comfortable fabric. If you have sensitive skin, look for moisture-wicking fabric and a nonirritating design. Consider the bulkiness and if you can get it on and off easily.
Size options: Take measurements accurately for knee braces with several sizes to ensure the correct fit. For adjustable designs, make sure your size is within the range. Custom braces are also available.
Customer reviews: Read online reviews, paying attention to those that mention your needs, such as athletic support, injury recovery, and pain relief.
Price: If you want a durable, high-support brace, plan to spend more. You may have to replace inexpensive designs more frequently.
difficulty moving your knee during daily activities
stiffness and tenderness in your knee
knees or other joints that are red or warm to the touch
Also, if you have unilateral arthritis, you might benefit from a prescription unloader brace. Talking with a doctor about the specifics of your osteoarthritis can help you decide which brace might be best for your needs.
This depends on the severity of your arthritis symptoms and your desired activity level. For moderate-to-severe arthritis in relatively active people, an unloader brace may be the best option. This can provide high-level support and pain relief and should be prescribed and fitted by a doctor.
For mild-to-moderate arthritis, a supportive sleeve-style brace may provide enough support and pain relief for daily activities, including walking.
Are knee compression sleeves good for arthritis?
Knee compression sleeves, also known as soft braces, can be good for arthritis, especially if you run or play sports. They’re not so good at stabilizing your knee or keeping the joint in place if you’re recovering from an injury.
How do you put on a knee brace?
It depends on what type of brace you buy. Be sure to read package directions carefully. Generally, braces can be pulled on and adjusted around your kneecap — like a compression sleeve — or strapped on using Velcro straps. Some braces will need some fiddling as you figure out how tightly to pull each strap.
How do you measure your knee for a knee brace?
Every knee brace has different measurement specifications, and you should check product descriptions carefully to determine the right size for you. Some braces are one-size-fits-most. Others require more precise measurements.
A well-fitted knee brace should feel snug and supportive, but not so tight that it is causing pain or discomfort. If your leg becomes discolored, swollen, or painful, your brace is too tight. You should be able to slide a finger or two between the brace and your skin. However, the brace should be tight enough that it is not slipping, falling off, or excessively bunched up.
Knee braces may help keep your knee joint in proper alignment or provide support throughout your day-to-day activities. These braces can help you feel more empowered to do what you want while managing arthritis pain. Speak with a doctor if you have frequent joint pain limiting your mobility.
Last medically reviewed on September 28, 2023
How we reviewed this article:
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