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Unloader Knee Brace

Updated on May 9, 2011

What is an Unloader Knee Brace?

 The Unloader Knee Brace was developed to treat unicompartmental osteoarthritis. This is when the wear and tear is limited to one half of the knee - either the inside half, or the outside half.

Unicompartmental osteoarthritis is more common in women and the inside half of the knee - known as the medial compartment - is the most frequently affected side.

Knee replacement surgery is a very effective intervention but a new joint does not last forever. Those suffering from osteoarthritis at a young age are well advised to delay the need for major surgery as long as possible. Unloader knee braces are an excellent tool to achieve this goal.

Unloader Knee Brace
Unloader Knee Brace

How Unloader Knee Braces Work

 When osteoarthritis attacks half of the knee, the cartilage covering of the bone is worn away. This can change the angle through the knee. The result is either becoming bow-legged (when the medial or inside half is worn) or knock-kneed (when the lateral side is worn).

An Unloader Knee Brace aims to counteract this angulation, correcting the leg towards a neutral position where each side of the knee takes an even amount of body weight. This leads to a decrease in symptoms such as pain and stiffness.

An Unloader Knee Brace aims to delay or prevent the need for major orthopaedic surgery.


Unloader Knee Brace Example

The Thruster by Bledsoe
The Thruster by Bledsoe

How To Choose an Unloader Knee Brace

The best advice is to choose an unloading brace that has the research behind it. This narrows the field. Three different braces from three different maunfacturers rise to the top.

First is the OAdjuster by Donjoy. This double upright brace is based on the famous Donjoy 4 Points of Leverage system used for many years in their range of ACL bracing. This brace therefore offers ACL protection (great for skiers) as well as the unloading forces required for unicompartmental osteoarthritis.

Second is the Thruster by Bledsoe: This brace (along with the OAdjuster) was found to be effective at unloading the affected compartment in a study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Third is the Unloader One by Ossur. A recent study found that those using the Unloader One significantly decreased their use of painkillers when wearing the brace. The results were very promising but it should be noted that Ossur sponsored the study.

Is an Unloader Knee Brace Suitable For You?

The type of person who benefits from an unloader knee brace is anyone with unicompartmental osteoarthritis who is trying to delay joint replacement.This means anyone less than 60 years of age although some would argue 70.

For those with severe osteoarthritis at a very young age (in their 30's or 40's) an unloader can be used to delay the need for a High Tibial Osteotomy. Some surgeons put all of their patients in an unloader knee brace prior to an osteotomy.

It is also suitable for for those who are having no trouble with daily activities but are finding it difficult to do certain recreational activities like golf, skiing and outdoor walking.

An Unloader Knee Brace


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