Northside Health Library

Knee braces - unloading

Alternate Names

Unloading brace

Osteoarthritis of the Knee

When most people talk about the arthritis in their knees, they are referring to a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear inside your knee joints.

  • Cartilage, the firm, rubbery tissue that cushions all of your bones and joints, normally allows bones to glide over one another.
  • If the cartilage breaks down and wears away, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
  • Bony spurs or growths form, the ligaments and muscles around the knee become weaker, and your whole knee become stiffer and stiffer.

Unloading Braces for Knee Arthritis

In some people, arthritis may affect mostly the inside of the knee. This may be because the inside of the knee often bears more of a person's weight than the outside of the knee.

A special brace called an "unloading brace" may help take some of the pressure off the inside of your knee when you are standing.

An unloading brace does not treat your arthritis, but it may help relieve symptoms such as knee pain or buckling when you are moving around. People who wish to delay having knee-replacement surgery may want to try an unloading brace.

There are 2 types of unloading braces:

  • An orthotist can make a custom-fitted unloading brace. You would need a prescription from your doctor. These braces often cost over $1,000, and insurance may not pay for them.
  • Unloading braces may be bought "off the shelf" in different sizes. You do not need a prescription for them. They cost a few hundred dollars.

It is not known for sure how well unloading braces work. Some people say they have fewer symptoms when they use them. But medical studies who have tested these braces have not proved whether they do or do not help people with knee arthritis.


Paluska SA. Knee braces. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby; 2010:chap 193.

Review Date: 8/12/2011
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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