Thinking about purchasing an offloader knee brace to help with your arthritis? We break down the best and most popular products so you don’t have to.
Popular Offloader Knee Braces
Offloader knee braces can provide powerful relief from osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms. Considered one of the best conservative options out there for treating OA, offloader knee braces can dramatically delay or eliminate the need for knee replacement surgery. They also provide a viable alternative to pharmaceutical drugs and painkillers. This is an attractive option for those looking to avoid the potentially dangerous side-effects associated with the long term use of medications.
If you search for the term “offloader knee brace” using Google you will find almost 20,000 results. That’s an intimidating amount of products and information to sift through. To make your life easier we have broken down the product features and compared five of the most popular braces on the market.
Offloader Knee Brace Comparison
If you haven’t purchased an offloader knee brace in the past, it can be confusing to decipher the differences between products. It is important to realize that depending on the type of osteoarthritis you have some braces may provide much greater benefit than others.
1. Adjustable Fit
As you probably already know, osteoarthritis can be very painful, often resulting in the habitual avoidance of placing weight on the injured knee. Over time disuse of the knee and a more sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle atrophy around the thigh muscles.
If you start exercising or working with a physical therapist or trainer, it is possible to regain the lost muscle mass. Given that your thigh may fluctuate in size over time it is important that your brace be adjustable. Interchangeable padding and customizable straps can both help to ensure your brace fits you properly for the long term.
Most offloader knee braces are customizable to some degree. While most braces come in different sizes, some of them like the Breg Solus One and Donjoy OA Defiance can be customized and molded specifically to your leg.
2. Functional Stabilization (Side-to-Side Stability)
While walking, hiking or going up and down stairs, you may have experienced a feeling of instability in your knee. More specifically, due to malaligned joints and specific muscle weakness, the knee joint often has the tendency to collapse inwards (valgus) or less commonly outwards (varus). An offloader knee brace with a rigid carbon fiber frame provides support that stops your knee joint from collapsing laterally. This can help you feel more secure when traversing uneven or unpredictable terrain.
3. Knee Joint Alignment
A malaligned knee joint is one of the possible contributors to the development of osteoarthritis.1 The poor alignment is usually due to a varus deformity (bow-legged appearance) or valgus deformity (knock knee appearance). Offloader knee braces can help correct this by repositioning the knee joint. Using a tension strapping system, offloader knee braces actively pull one side of the knee up, while pressing the other side down. This can put the joint into a better position – allowing for more equal pressure distribution on the cartilage.
4. Partial Pressure Relief (Unicompartmental Offloading)
The pain and disability accompanying advanced knee osteoarthritis is the result of inflammation caused by bone on bone friction within the joint. In areas of your knee where the cartilage has worn down, increased pressure creates inflammation and joint irritation. Offloader knee braces can help by re-aligning the joint to take the pressure off these areas.
As discussed earlier, they do this by re-aligning the knee joint via the braces strapping system. This is an effective solution for those that have unicompartmental osteoarthritis in either the lateral tibiofemoral compartment or the medial tibiofemoral compartment.
The number of individuals with osteoarthritis in a single knee compartment is lower than those presenting with degeneration in multiple areas of the knee. Recent studies showed that among patients with knee osteoarthritis:
- 50–94% had osteoarthritis in multiple compartments or in the patellofemoral compartment of the knee.2, 3, 4, 5
- 3–20% had osteoarthritis in only one tibiofemoral compartment of the knee.3, 6, 7
- One study suggests that as few as 6% of knee osteoarthritis patients have the disease isolated to one tibiofemoral compartment.3
What does this mean? The majority of patients with severe knee osteoarthritis require offloading of multiple knee compartments (total pressure relief), while only a minority of patients will benefit from a traditional uni-compartment offloading (partial pressure relief).
5. Total Pressure Relief (Tricompartmental Offloading)
Tri-compartment offloading means that all three pressure points of the knee are offloaded simultaneously. This has benefits for all arthritic areas of the knee joint, not just one. Just like weight loss, pressure across the entire knee joint is reduced resulting in less pain and a possible slower rates of disease progression.
Contemporary bracing technology focuses on helping patients with uni-compartment osteoarthritis, as it redistributes rather than reduces pressure within the knee. Spring Loaded’s knee brace uses a spring-loaded hinge, which actively absorbs force as the knee is bent – taking the pressure off the entire joint. As far as your knee is concerned this is the equivalent of instantly losing a significant amount of bodyweight. In fact, a recent biomechanical study suggests that the Spring Loaded knee brace can reduce joint contact forces by over 40% (at 90 degrees of knee flexion).8
6. Pain Relief During Squatting, Lunging, Kneeling (Patellofemoral Offloading)
If you have osteoarthritis in the patellofemoral compartment of your knee, you likely experience difficulty when getting into a deep knee bend. As your knee bends the pressure between the back of your kneecap and the rest of the joint increases dramatically.
Braces that provide only tibiofemoral compartment offloading will not be very effective in helping with this issue. The Spring Loaded knee brace, due to its spring hinge, is better suited to deal with the issue. The more you bend your knees, the more the springs compress, supporting you during movements such as squatting, lunging and kneeling.
7. Increased Strength
Do you have difficulty getting in and out chairs? Walking up stairs? If so your knee pain is likely negatively impacting your knee strength. This is a problem that an offloader knee brace is typically not capable of solving. Strength enhancement is more in the domain of exoskeleton technology than knee braces. Currently the Spring Loaded knee brace, again owing to its spring hinge technology, is the only offloader knee brace that augments joint strength as you bend your knees.
Which Offloader Knee Brace Is Right for You?
If you have uni-compartment tibiofemoral osteoarthritis, there are many offloader knee braces that could provide you with benefits. Here you should compare price, aesthetic appeal and comfort.
However, if like most individuals you have multi-compartment OA, there is really only one viable option – the Spring Loaded knee brace.
Tri-compartment offloading is an exciting new treatment for severe knee osteoarthritis. With this mechanism, damaged areas can be offloaded rather than replaced. A new type of exoskeleton hybrid knee brace uses spring technology to provide additional support to the knee, reducing joint contact forces by over 40%.8
In addition, tri-compartment offloading has been shown to provide substantial improvements in pain and pressure reduction and increased mobility. Among Spring Loaded customers with knee osteoarthritis who bought the knee brace brace, 100% reported reduced pain9 and 97.5% experienced increased function.10
The Spring Loaded knee brace is an innovative type of offloading knee brace that uses spring technology to absorb painful joint forces and provide a powerful assist during leg extension.
If you’re unsure which type of brace will meet your needs, take a look at our comparison of a Donjoy knee brace with a Spring Loaded knee brace here. The Donjoy knee brace is one of many traditional offloaders on the market, while a Spring Loaded knee brace is a tri-compartment offloader.
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- Malliaras, P., Cook, J. L., & Kent, P. (2006). Reduced ankle dorsiflexion range may increase the risk of patellar tendon injury among volleyball players. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 9(4), 304-309.
- Reilly, K., Barker, K., Shamley, D., Newman, M., Oskrochi, G. R., & Sandall, S. (2009). The role of foot and ankle assessment of patients with lower limb osteoarthritis. Physiotherapy, 95(3), 164-169.
- Wyndow, N., Collins, N. J., Vicenzino, B., Tucker, K., & Crossley, K. M. (2018). Foot and ankle characteristics and dynamic knee valgus in individuals with patellofemoral osteoarthritis. Journal of foot and ankle research, 11(1), 65.
- Mohammed, K.S. Al-Obaedi, O. Shah, M. (2018). Prevalence of Compartmental Osteoarthritis of the Knee in an Adult Patient Population: A Retrospective Observational Study. EC Orthopaedics
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- Neelapala, Y. R., Bhagat, M., & Shah, P. (2018). Hip Muscle Strengthening for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review of Literature. Journal of geriatric physical therapy (2001).
- Santos, T. R., Oliveira, B. A., Ocarino, J. M., Holt, K. G., & Fonseca, S. T. (2015). Effectiveness of hip muscle strengthening in patellofemoral pain syndrome patients: a systematic review. Brazilian journal of physical therapy, 19(3), 167-176.
- Khayambashi, K., Ghoddosi, N., Straub, R. K., & Powers, C. M. (2016). Hip muscle strength predicts noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injury in male and female athletes: a prospective study. The American journal of sports medicine, 44(2), 355-361.
- Mucha, M. D., Caldwell, W., Schlueter, E. L., Walters, C., & Hassen, A. (2017). Hip abductor strength and lower extremity running related injury in distance runners: a systematic review. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 20(4), 349-355.
- Mazzuca, S. A., Page, M. C., Meldrum, R. D., Brandt, K. D., & Petty‐Saphon, S. (2004). Pilot study of the effects of a heat‐retaining knee sleeve on joint pain, stiffness, and function in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Care & Research: Official Journal of the American College of Rheumatology, 51(5), 716-721