Braces for osteoarthritis may help improve symptoms, mobility, function, and quality of life. Different types are available for osteoarthritis of the knees, wrists, shoulders, and back.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints and may restrict your mobility.

Depending on the severity of your condition, a healthcare professional may recommend an assistive device, such as wearing a brace.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, some benefits of wearing a brace may include:

  • enhanced stability
  • reduced swelling and joint pressure
  • increased confidence

Keep reading to learn more about the different braces for osteoarthritis.

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Braces for osteoarthritis are usually made from a combination of materials, such as plastic, metal, or similar components. They may also be padded with synthetic rubber, foam, or other soft materials.

There are several types of braces used to help treat osteoarthritis:

  • Functional or supportive: These support you if you’ve already injured a joint.
  • Unloader or offloaded: These help reduce pressure on key areas.
  • Prophylactic: These protect you from injury, usually when you play a sport.
  • Stabilizer: These limit the movement of a joint to allow time for healing. They’re most often used after you’ve had surgery or a joint set in place.

Pharmacies, medical supply stores, and online stores are all good places to find braces for osteoarthritis.

The best type of brace for you will depend on which part of your body is affected by osteoarthritis.

Knee braces

Several types of knee braces are available for knee osteoarthritis.

The American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation (ACR/AF) recommend the following braces for osteoarthritis of the knee:

  • Unloader brace (tibiofemoral): Unloader braces are made from molded plastic and foam padding. They typically have steel struts that keep your knee from wobbling. These are often custom knee braces that are adjustable to reduce pressure on the inner or outer portion of your knee. They can be bulky in size.
  • Hinged knee brace (patellofemoral): A hinged knee brace often has a hole for your kneecap and straps above and below your knee for stability. They have a “hinge” portion on either side of your kneecap to support movement, walking, and instability.

Other types of knee braces that may also help reduce pain and increase mobility include a drop-lock hinged brace and a neoprene sleeve brace.

Ankle braces

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends a lace-up ankle brace to treat mild to moderate pain in your foot and ankle. If you have moderate to severe pain, the AAOS recommends a custom-made leather or plastic ankle brace.

Back braces

Symptoms related to osteoarthritis of the spine may be reduced by using braces or corsets. Corsets are usually made of a stretchy fabric and are adjustable.

Braces tend to be more formed and have metal moldings. If you have a vertebral fracture due to osteoarthritis, you may benefit more from a brace than a corset.

Shoulder braces

Shoulder braces for osteoarthritis of the shoulder may provide lightweight support but restrict movement. They often cross over your shoulder and compress the upper portion of your arm.

Some shoulder braces may also provide support to your upper back, crisscrossing over your upper body.

Wrist braces

Assistive devices for wrist arthritis may include:

If you’ll be wearing a brace for longer periods, a healthcare professional may recommend a custom-fit brace.

Benefits

A 2021 study compared the effectiveness of wearing a custom-fit unloader knee brace on osteoarthritis symptoms.

One group of participants wore a custom-fit knee brace for 5 days a week in addition to receiving other treatments for osteoarthritis, such as medications and physical therapy. The other group only received the other treatments.

After 1 year, the group that wore custom-fit knee braces experienced more significant improvements in knee pain and function, as well as overall quality of life.

When comparing custom-fit knee braces to store-bought braces, there may be fewer benefits.

For example, a 2018 study found that custom-fit hinged knee braces improved balance during dynamic activity. However, the researchers found that both types of knee braces performed similarly in other tests.

Drawbacks

A custom-fit brace may be the most comfortable and effective brace because it’s made exactly for you.

However, they can be very expensive, sometimes costing around $1,500.

If you’re considering getting a custom-fit knee brace, check with your insurance provider to see if they may cover all or a portion of the cost. If you don’t have insurance, call the doctor’s office to see if they offer payment plans or reduced rates for self-payers.

Although braces may provide joint support and relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis, they may not be for everyone.

According to a 2011 review, braces have limited effectiveness because people wouldn’t wear them. The reasons they stopped wearing the brace included:

  • discomfort
  • skin breakdown, redness, and irritation
  • increased swelling

Speak with a healthcare professional about whether a brace is right for you.

What is the best knee brace for osteoarthritis?

The best knee brace for osteoarthritis will depend on your condition. For example, the AAOS notes that an unloader brace may help if one part of your knee is affected, while a support brace may be best if the whole knee needs support.

Are knee braces effective for osteoarthritis?

If you have osteoarthritis, knee braces could help relieve pain, improve balance, provide support, and increase mobility.

How do I choose a knee brace for arthritis?

The best knee brace for osteoarthritis will depend on several factors, such as the severity of your symptoms and how much of your knee is affected. It’s best to speak with a healthcare professional, who could assess the affected knee and recommend the best brace for your needs.

What is the difference between a knee brace and a knee stabilizer?

A knee stabilizer is a type of knee brace that helps immobilize your knee.

A brace may help improve osteoarthritis symptoms by providing support, reducing pressure, and increasing mobility.

Although a brace may have several benefits, it’s important not to wear one if it causes frequent pain.

A healthcare professional could help develop the best osteoarthritis treatment plan for you, which may include wearing a brace, taking medications, and making lifestyle changes.