WebMD Health News
Laura J. Martin, MD
April 13, 2010 -- Steve Peterson, 62, a home remodeler in Seattle, has
rock-climbed in Tasmania, hiked in the high alpine regions of Washington, and
trekked across the island of Manhattan -- all while sporting a knee brace due
to painful knee osteoarthritis (OA), the
wear-and-tear form of the disease that affects 27 million people.
When surgery failed to repair his damaged knee, Peterson's doctor suggested
a knee brace. While Peterson was reluctant to try it at first, his wife all but
insisted, and as a result, she got her hiking partner back, and to hear
Peterson tell it, he got his life back.
"It absolutely gave me almost immediate relief," he says. "By wearing the
brace, I could get back to sports and was able to call my physician and say
'why didn't we try this first?'"
Knee braces basically help realign the knee; taking pressure off of damaged
areas to relieve pain
and restore function. Bracing is one of a number of noninvasive ways to treat
knee OA and/or delay the need for joint replacement surgery.
New research presented at a media briefing Tuesday in New York City suggests
that Peterson is not the only one to find relief from knee bracing. In a new
study, 49 people with knee OA aged 45 to 87 who wore a knee brace had less
pain, stiffness, and disability after six months of use.
All study participants led active lifestyles before they got sidelined by
knee OA, and said they hoped to return to their previous level of activities.
And by and large, they did. Their quality of life improved, and their activity
level went from one that did not permit recreational sports to one that
The brace used in the study was provided by Ossur, which also provided
financial support to the study through a research grant and sponsored the media
briefing. The study was also presented at the recent annual meeting of the
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in New Orleans.
Thirty-one percent of study participants said they took fewer
over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs, and 35% were taking
fewer prescription anti-inflammatory drugs after six months of wearing the
brace. Researchers plan to follow up on these individuals for up to two years
to see who goes on to have joint replacement surgery.
But so far, so good. "The less knee misalignment the patient had, the less
disability they experienced, and they saw an improvement in pain, stiffness,
and function," said study researcher J. Richard Steadman, MD, founder of the
Steadman Phillipon Research Institute in Vail, Colo., at the media
Not everyone with knee OA is a candidate for bracing, he says. Braces may
not fit individuals who weigh too much or too little.
"Knee bracing is one of a number of things you can do for knee OA, including
loss and strengthening of the muscle in the thigh," he says. "It's a
noninvasive way to enhance performance in conjunction with a program to make
your lifestyle better," he says. "A brace can add some level of increased
activity and stability, but all other things are just as important."
Margot Putukian, MD, the director of athletic medicine and head team
physician at Princeton University, agrees. "Exercise, physical therapy, weight loss, and disease education are the most
important things we can do for our patients," she says. For every 1-pound loss,
there is a 4-pound decrease in knee load, she says.
"There is an issue with putting a brace on because people think that that
means 'I am old,'" Putukian says. "It's a barrier."
Robert A Stanton, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in Fairfield, Conn., tries to
break down this barrier by telling his patients that it is basically the same
brace he uses for National Football League players who hurt their knee
ligaments. "This is not an old-age thing," he says. "You just can't say 'here
is a brace,' you have to explain it to them." Stanton usually recommends a
"We can stop this disease with medication, injections, weight loss, physical
activity, and bracing," he says. Injections of corticosteroids are another way
to reduce inflammation and pain in knees with OA.
SOURCES:News conference, New York Academy of Sciences, April 13, 2010.Steve Peterson, home remodeler, Seattle.Margot Putukian, MD, director, athletic medicine, head team physician,
Princeton University.J. Richard Steadman, MD, founder, Steadman Phillipon Research Institute,
Vail, Colo.Robert A Stanton, MD, orthopaedic surgeon, Fairfield, Conn.
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