Strengthening of the upper leg muscles is thought to be one of the factors involved in reducing pain associated with knee OA.24 Strength training, Tai Chi, and aerobic exercise have also been shown to decrease fall risk in the elderly with knee OA.25 In general, lower impact activities (eg, walking, swimming, biking, yoga) are preferred over higher impact activities (eg, running, jumping) in order to lessen pain with exercise.26-28
Knee orthoses: Many forms and mixed findings
Knee braces come in many forms, including soft braces (eg, elastic sleeves, simple hinged braces) and unloading braces. Many of these braces have been purported to help with knee OA although the evidence remains mixed, with a lack of high-quality trials. A systematic review of RCTs comparing various knee braces, foot orthotics, and conservative treatment for the management of medial compartment OA concluded that the optimal choice for orthosis remains unclear, and long-term evidence is lacking.29
The medial unloading (valgus) knee brace is often used to treat medial compartment OA and varus malalignment of the knee by applying a valgus force, thereby reducing the load on the medial compartment. One recent systematic review concluded that medial unloading braces improve pain from medial compartment OA, but whether they improve function and stiffness is unclear.30 Another study showed that compared to conservative treatment alone, valgus knee bracing has some benefit in decreasing pain and improving knee function.31 Additionally, an 8-year prospective study found that the valgus unloading brace can delay the time before patients need to undergo knee arthroplasty.32 However, another prospective study examining the efficacy of valgus bracing at 2.7 years and 11.2 years showed short-term but not long-term benefit.33
Soft knee braces include a variety of elastic sleeves and simple hinged knee braces. These braces are available commercially at most pharmacies and athletic retail stores. Soft braces are thought to improve pain by a thermal and compressive effect, and to provide stability to the knee joint. One systematic review concluded that soft knee braces have a moderate effect on pain and a small-to-moderate effect on self-reported physical function.34 A small trial showed that soft knee braces reduced pain and dynamic instability in individuals with knee OA.35
In summary, many types of soft knee braces exist, but the evidence for recommending them individually or collectively is limited, as high-quality trials are lacking. However, the available evidence does suggest some mild benefit with regard to pain and function with no concern for adverse effects.
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