A significant number of patients over the age of 60 suffer from osteoarthritis (also known as wear and tear or degenerative arthritis). Symptomatic osteoarthritis occurs in 10% of men over 60 and 13% of women according to a 2010 study of US citizens. For many, the pain is unrelenting and chronic. Because of its prevalence, the disease causes more difficulty with walking and climbing stairs than any other disease on the planet. Whilst treatment with medication is often well tolerated, alternatives and new ways to treat the disease are always welcome. Braces have been used for a number of years but there has been a lack of evidence for the effectiveness. Now a study published in the journal “Osteoarthritis and Cartilage” shows that bracing could be a good solution for most patients.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a condition of the joints (often the hands and knees) that results in pain and deformity. It happens when the cartilage within the joint slowly wears down, causing bone on bone contact that is painful and can restrict movement. As this is a condition of wear and tear, it’s unsurprising that is so prevalent in old age. However, there are a number of other risk factors that could mean you develop the disease at an early age. These include:
- Your sex: women are more likely to get the disease, but we aren’t entirely sure why.
- Weight: overweight and obese patients are more likely to develop arthritis because the extra weight causes more stress and wear on the joints.
- Accidents and injuries: damaging the joint can also increase the risk of getting osteoarthritis
- Your genetics: unfortunately, some people are born with a predisposition to develop osteoarthritis
There are a few symptoms to look out for including:
- Pain when moving the joint
- Pain after moving the joint
- Tenderness: this is pain when you apply pressure to the joint (so if you touch it)
- Stiffness: especially when you have just woken up or haven’t moved the joint in a while
- Loss of movement: you might notice you aren’t able to move the joint as much as you used to
How can bracing help?
A brace or device that limits the range of movement a joint undertakes can be helpful to reduce pain in osteoarthritis. A recent trial using a brace known as an Unloader brace (that is offered at specialist orthopedic clinics) looked to see whether it worked better than a placebo brace. They looked at 150 patients and followed them for a year. They found that the Unloader brace was more effective than a placebo for pain reduction and functional improvement (aka what movements the patient is able to do). Whilst they note that more research on bracing is needed – this is a promising trial that shows the power of proper orthopedic bracing that is offered by specialist clinics across the United States.