Osteoarthritis is an extremely common condition in the knee-joint which is sometimes called 'wear and tear.' It is a degenerative condition of the articular cartilage which is made worse by repetitive impact or previous injuries in the knee. It also tends to have a genetic component, meaning it runs in families. As the disease progresses, the cartilage itself becomes thinner and in some cases may wear away altogether.
A knee brace or support can be worn by people with arthritis in the knee-joint to help relieve the pressure on the joint surfaces and to ease pain and discomfort. There are many different types of knee brace and support available which may be suitable for arthritic knees. These can also vary considerably in price.
At the top end is the hinged 'offloader' (sometimes called 'unloader') type of brace, of which there are several designs and manufacturers. These are thought to be very effective in easing the symptoms of severe cases of unicompartmental osteoarthritis, where the arthritis affects only one side of the joint. These braces work by taking the load off the affected side and put more on the unaffected side. This may also help to delay the need for knee replacement surgery.
Whilst a offloader brace may be very effective, many people prefer to start with a lower level (and lower budget!) support to try this for arthritis pain relief before investing in a offloader brace.
Neoprene is thought to be the best material in a knee brace for arthritis pain relief. Neoprene is known for its compressive and heat retaining properties which help to increase blood flow to the area which in turn brings the nutrients required for healing. Wearing a neoprene support has also been shown to aid proprioception - the sense of positioning, co-ordination and balance at the joint. This is beneficial in preventing movements at the knee which could cause pain or injury.
Additional support can be given to the joint in the form of metal parts and extra straps. A stabilised support has lightweight metal stays embedded into the sides of the brace. These will help to give a sense of stability to the knee and will resist lateral and twisting movements which tend to aggravate the condition and risk other injuries.
At a higher level, a hinged neoprene brace has a solid hinge on each side of the knee. These give even more resistance against these types of movements, essentially preventing them altogether. The drawback of this kind of brace is of course the size and bulk of them, although this is usually still less than a offloader brace.
Comfort is of course the most important factor to consider when purchasing a knee brace for arthritis. They should always fit snugly around the knee-joint without being too tight around the thigh or calf. Wrap-around supports are available for those who prefer to be able to adjust the support, or where the knee swells up with activity.