At the end of the study, participants who wore the brace had statistically significant more pain reduction (an 18-point decrease on a scale of 0 to 100) compared to those who didn’t wear a brace (a 1-point decrease). On average, they also had a significant shrinkage in the size of BMLs (whereas those who did not wear a brace saw, on average, their BMLs get bigger). This suggests that the brace may also reduce knee damage.

Researcher believe that wearing a brace may help spread the load across the entire knee, instead of focusing on (and irritating) any one spot; additionally it might help correct joint malalignment.

"OA is mechanically driven by abnormal forces across the joint, which causes damage and pain. Correcting abnormal loading might help," says Dr. Felson. He says bracing has been understudied despite it being "an easy intervention" that is "easy to wear, not expensive, can be used long-term and has no bad side effects."

Eric Matteson, MD, chair of the division of rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says the study points to a new benefit of knee bracing on the structural components of knee OA, including the bone.

“We have not thought that bracing has a structural impact in knee OA at the cartilage/bone level, but [the study suggests] that we might need to rethink that,” he says. “The findings stimulate the thought that bracing may indeed be useful for some patients from the structural standpoint, especially perhaps to lessen or slow [disease] progression, but longer-term studies are needed to see if that is the case.”

John Hardin, MD, vice president of research for the Arthritis Foundation and a professor of medicine and orthopaedic surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, NY, says he thinks the idea of measuring BMLs in future studies has potential: “I would certainly want to see the responsiveness of bone marrow lesions developed further as an outcome measure for clinical trials in OA.”

Then, there is also the appeal of the simple and inexpensive solution. “It is most encouraging to see support for the possibility that knee bracing can benefit selected patients with osteoarthritis,” says Dr. Hardin.