British researchers say a simple knee brace can improve much of the pain and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis of the knee, without the use of painkillers or knee replacement surgery.
“There’s a pressing need for non-surgical interventions for knee osteoarthritis, and little attention has been paid to treatments particularly aimed at the kneecap, a major source of knee pain,” said Dr. Michael Callaghan, research associate in rehabilitation science at the University of Manchester in England.
“We’ve shown that something as simple as a lightweight knee brace can dramatically improve the symptoms and function for people with this particular type of knee osteoarthritis.”
Osteoarthritis of the knee accounts for about 20% of patients with knee pain. They typically experience pain when going up and down stairs, kneeling, squatting and after prolonged sitting.
Researchers conducted a controlled trial of a lightweight Lycra flexible knee brace fitted around the knee with a support strap for the kneecap. About 125 patients between the ages of 40 and 70 who had suffered from arthritic knee pain for the previous three months.
Patients were randomly assigned to either immediate treatment with a knee brace or delayed treatment after six weeks. Both groups of patients eventually wore the brace for a period of 12 weeks for about seven hours a day.
After six weeks, there were significant improvements between the brace wearing group and the no treatment group in scores for pain, symptoms, knee stiffness, muscle strength and function. After 12 weeks there were significant improvements for all patients compared to when they started.
“Patients repeatedly told us that wearing the brace made their knee feel more secure, stable, and supported,” said Dr. Callaghan. “Our theory is that these sensations gave the patient confidence to move the knee more normally and this helped in improving muscle strength, knee function and symptoms.”
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and affects more than 27 million Americans and over 100 million people worldwide. Osteoarthritis mainly impacts the hands, knees, and hips, and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in every two people will develop knee osteoarthritis by age 85. By 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans over the age of 18 are projected to have physician-diagnosed arthritis.
“We know that in patients with arthritis, the knee joint is frequently out of normal alignment, which might be an underlying cause of the problem, as well as making it worse. By using a simple brace, the researchers have been able not only to correct the alignment but achieve a very worthwhile benefit in terms of reducing pain and function,” said Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, which funded the trial.
“This approach is a real advance over relying on painkillers and has the potential to reduce the end for joint surgery and replacement, procedures often employed when the symptoms become uncontrollable.”