Osteoarthritis is the most common, and often most disabling form of arthritis. It occurs frequently in weight-bearing joints including the hips and knees, and is characterized by tenderness, swelling, and stiffness, and moderate to severe pain.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop over time, and can vary based on an individual's level of physical activity. Symptoms may begin as a localized joint ache following physical work or exercise that subsides, and then returns again each time the joint is extensively used. Continued overuse of the joint will result in the wearing down of cartilage between the bones, and the pain in the joint will become more persistent. When the painful joint is the knee, this can make it especially hard to walk, climb stairs, and enjoy other physical activities.
New research, funded by Ossur and presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, suggests that knee braces can greatly reduce the pain and disabling effects of osteoarthritis.
In the study, 49 people aged 45 to 87 who suffered from osteoarthritis of the knee wore a knee brace consistently for six months, and reported less pain, stiffness, and disability afterwards. All participants led active lifestyles before their knee pain forced them to modify activities; following the study, all reported an improved quality of life and the ability to return to favorite recreational activities. Longer term follow up on the study participants is expected.
In addition to returning to normal activity levels, 31 percent of participants reported taking fewer over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, and 35 percent were taking fewer prescription anti-inflammatory drugs following the six-month study.
Knee braces work by realigning and stabilizing the knee joint, which takes pressure off the surrounding areas that have been damaged by overuse. Braces are one type of treatment option and may be used in conjunction with other efforts such as weight loss, exercise and muscle strengthening around the knee. Pain medications and knee injections can also be used before one considers surgery for disabling knee osteoarthritis.