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What Is an Unloader Knee Brace?

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Updated January 31, 2010

Question: What Is an Unloader Knee Brace?
About 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis, according to JAMA. Knee braces are one way to provide stability, support, and pain relief for patients with knee osteoarthritis.

There is more than one kind of knee brace. Of course, you will want to discuss with your doctor what type of knee brace would offer you the most benefit. The decision will depend on your specific problem and what limitation you are trying to overcome.

One of the most effective knee braces -- for the appropriate patient -- is known as an unloader knee brace. What exactly is an unloader knee brace?

Answer:

Who Needs an Unloader Knee Brace?

An unloader knee brace does exactly what it's name suggests -- it unloads stress from the affected joint. Most often, unloader knee braces are prescribed for those with medial compartment knee osteoarthritis (affecting the inner portion of the knee). When you walk, if you have medial knee osteoarthritis, the instability in the knee can be obvious to someone who is watching you walk -- the knee actually wobbles towards the inside. Some designs of unloader knee braces can unload either the medial (inner) or lateral (outer) part of the knee -- just by adjusting the unloading hinge.

How Does the Unloader Knee Brace Work?

The unloader knee brace is a custom-designed brace made of molded plastic, foam, and steel struts to limit side movement. The unloader brace is designed to put three points of pressure on the thigh bone. This forces the knee to bend away from the painful aspect of the knee. Essentially, it transfers or "unloads" stress or pressure from the inside to outside part of the knee or vice versa.

Points to Remember About Unloader Knee Braces

A few important points:

  • Unloader knee braces are bulky. You will want loose pant legs for it to look right.
  • Unloader knee braces are pricey. Check with your insurance to be sure it will be covered.
  • Unloader knee braces are usually used along with your other osteoarthritis treatments, not instead of. Keep taking medications or doing whatever else you and your doctor agreed upon.
  • There is not just one unloader knee brace. There are several designs of unloaders, so have a professional help you choose what is right for you.
  • Unloader knee braces can be especially helpful for those waiting to have knee replacement surgery.

Sources:

The Unloader Technology. Ossur. Accessed 9/21/2008.
http://www.ossur.com/?PageID=3002

Brace Yourself for Knee Pain Relief. MedicalNewsToday. September 26, 2007.
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/83633.php

Osteoarthritis of the Knee. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). February 26, 2003. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/289/8/1068

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