Braces and orthoses for treating osteoarthritis of the knee

Braces and orthoses for treating osteoarthritis of the knee

As an orthotist, I am always keen to explore the impact of commonly used interventions on the management of musculoskeletal conditions that I treat.

This review is an update of an original review published in 2005, which examined the use of braces and orthotics in the management of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee.

Here’s what they did

They searched the Cochrane register of controlled trials (Central), Medline and Embase up to March 2014 for RCT’s investigating all types of bracing for OA of the knee compared to active control or no intervention. Two independent authors selected trials and extracted data, assessing the information using the Cochrane risk of bias tool and the GRADE approach. They reviewed papers evaluating the benefits and harms of braces and foot/ankle orthoses with the treatment of OA of the knee.

Here’s what they found

Thirteeen studies were included in the review and these were categorised into:

  • Brace versus no treatment;
  • Foot/ankle orthosis versus no treatment, and
  • Brace versus foot/ankle orthosis

Brace versus no treatment

Four studies compared knee brace and no treatment. Only one provided data after 12 months, which was of low quality. With 117 participants it showed no improvement in pain, function and QUALY (Quality of Life Years). There was significant drop out due to lack of effect over the 12 month period in both groups. The other three studies found some improvement in pain, function and QUALY.

Foot/ankle orthosis versus no treatment

One study showed a reduction in pain over nine months of wearing a laterally wedged insole compared to no insole but evidence was deemed low quality.

Three papers compared laterally wedged insoles to a neutral insole and found little effect on numerical pain scores and Western Ontario-McMaster Osteoarthritis (WOMAC) stiffness or function scores.

They found inconclusive evidence for the benefits of knee bracing in medial compartment OA on pain, stiffness, function and quality of life. Only one trial  compared laterally wedged insole versus no treatment, leading the authors to conclude evidence is lacking.

Brace versus foot/ankle orthosis

There was low quality evidence comparing knee bracing to a lateral wedged insole, which found a lack of effect on pain scale or function scores but both groups showed some improvement.

The authors concluded

The optimal choice for an orthosis remains unclear, and long-term implications are lacking.

The optimal choice for an orthosis remains unclear!

The optimal choice for an orthosis remains unclear!

The Musculoskeletal Elf’s view

The Musculoskeletal Elf

Interesting that a previous review examining the biomechanical effects of valgus knee bracing on medial compartment OA concluded knee bracing did influence the biomechanics of the knee and this review found nothing of statistical significance to enable them to conclude a positive benefit from any intervention on pain, function or QUALY. This was a very comprehensive review of current evidence available on the impact of orthotic treatment on OA of the knee. However, this review does highlight areas that require further study and also similar constructs to allow meta-analysis and pooling of data to occur.

What do you think?

Send us your views on this blog and become part of the ever expanding Musculoskeletal Elf community. Post your comment below, or get in touch via social media (FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+).

Do you know that there is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses? This is called the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses or PRISMA statement and can be accessed through the website of the EQUATOR Network. The Elves use the PRISMA statement for critical appraisal of systematic reviews, although it is not a quality assessment instrument to gauge the quality of a systematic review.


Duivenvoorden, T., Brouwer, R. W., van Raaij, T. M., Verhagen, A. P., Verhaar, J. A., & Bierma‐Zeinstra, S. (2015). Braces and orthoses for treating osteoarthritis of the knee. The Cochrane Library [Abstract]

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