A patellofemoral brace can help relieve pain and possibly prevent damage caused by a certain type of knee osteoarthritis (OA), according to a study presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in San Diego this week. In the study, wearing the BIOSKIN knee brace for several hours every day relieved pain in patients with patellofemoral – kneecap – OA; patients who wore the knee brace also had less damage visible on an MRI.

Patellofemoral OA is caused by damage to the cartilage between the kneecap (patella) and the thighbone (femur). Unlike other types of knee OA that affect the inside (medial) and the outside (lateral) parts of the knee and cause trouble for patients when walking on flat surfaces, patellofemoral OA causes pain in the front of the knee when doing activities such as kneeling, climbing, squatting and rising from a seated position.

"Knee OA doesn't have many effective treatments," says lead study author David Felson, MD, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine. "Patients who got the brace felt much better." He adds that many continued to wear the brace after the study ended.

In this study, researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States enrolled 126 people with knee OA (and no other type of arthritis) who reported daily knee pain during activities that put stress on the patellofemoral joint. On physical exam, all subjects had tenderness at the knee and cartilage destruction visible on an X-ray.

Ninety of the patients were found on MRI to have bone marrow lesions (BMLs), sometimes referred to as “bone bruises.” BMLs are thought to occur from stress on the knee joint. Additionally, BML size is correlated with the severity of knee pain, and the presence of BLMs predict disease progression, according to Dr. Felson, an Arthritis Foundation grant recipient. This is one of the first studies to evaluate an orthotic brace by looking at its effect on damage to the knee as measured by BMLs.

Participants were randomly assigned to wear the brace or wear no brace for the six-week study period. Those who got the brace wore it for an average of 7.4 hours a day. Participants answered questionnaires about pain and tenderness, and had MRI scans to measure BMLs at both the start and at the end of the study.