Unloading Knee Braces -- How do they work?

Unloader knee braces are designed to transfer pressure within the knee, "unloading" one side of the joint to the other. In other words, an unloader knee brace does exactly what its name suggests—it shifts stress from the affected side of the joint to the healthier side of the joint. 

Using an unloader knee brace may provide you with enough comfort to improve your mobility and diminish your pain while at rest. It does not cure or reverse osteoarthritis or any other disease of the joints; however, it can help decrease stress on that joint while receiving other treatments. 

The unloader knee brace is a specially-designed brace made of molded plastic, foam, and steel struts to stabilize your knee joint, limiting side movement of the joint. It fits all the way around the leg at the level of your knee joint, allowing flexibility for movement.

It's designed to put three points of pressure on the thigh bone, which forces the knee to bend away from the painful area of the joint. Some versions can unload either the medial (inner) or lateral (outer) part of the knee simply by adjusting the unloading hinge. Our staff ensure a proper and perfect fit before you take the brace home and can make adjustments after that as needed. 

Most often, unloader knee braces are prescribed for people who have medial compartment knee osteoarthritis, which is arthritis that affects the inner portion of the knee. In these cases, knee instability can make the knee wobble toward the inside of the leg when walking. An unloader knee brace transfers the pressure away from the weak area of your knee to provide you with more stability. Again, this is only helpful if you have another healthy joint in the knee to assume the load.

Unloading knee braces in some patients can also improve stability and even replace the need for surgery when combined with other alternative treatments such as injections and rehab.

These types of braces are just one of many treatment options we utilize at Cactus Medical Center. Call today to make an appointment if you feel you may benefit from this type of brace, our medical team would be happy to see you. We can also check with your insurance provider to see if they cover this product, as many do. 

Author
Dr. Casey McNinch, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with expertise in working with the aging population, individuals with Parkinson's Disease, and individuals with neck and low back injuries.

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