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Sports Health. 2009 Sep;1(5):416-26.

Unloader braces for medial compartment knee osteoarthritis: implications on mediating progression.

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Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York.



For persons with unicompartment knee osteoarthritis (OA), off-unloader braces are a mechanical intervention designed to reduce pain, improve physical function, and possibly slow disease progression. Pain relief is thought to be mediated by distracting the involved compartment via external varus or valgus forces applied to the knee. In so doing, tibiofemoral alignment is improved, and load is shifted off the degenerative compartment, where exposure to potentially damaging and provocative mechanical stresses are reduced.


To provide a synopsis of the evidence documented in the scientific literature concerning the efficacy of off-loader knee braces for improving symptomatology associated with painful disabling medial compartment knee OA.


Relevant peer-reviewed publications were retrieved from a MEDLINE search using the terms with the reference terms osteoarthritis, knee, and braces (per Medical Subject Headings), plus a manual search of bibliographies from original and review articles and appropriate Internet resources.


For persons with combined unicompartment knee OA and mild to moderate instability, the strength of recommendation reported by the Osteoarthritis Research Society International in the ability of off-loader knee braces to reduce pain, improve stability, and diminish the risk of falling was 76% (95% confidence interval, 69%-83%). The more evidence the treatment is effective, the higher the percentage.


Given the encouraging evidence that off-loader braces are effective in mediating pain relief in conjunction with knee OA and malalignment, bracing should be fully used before joint realignment or replacement surgery is considered. With the number of patients with varus deformities and knee pain predicted to increase as the population ages, a reduction of patient morbidity for this widespread chronic condition in combination with this treatment modality could have a positive impact on health care costs and the economic productivity and quality of life of the affected individuals.


knee; orthotics; osteoarthritis; pain

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