Background: Unloading knee braces can provide good short-term pain relief for some patients with unicompartmental osteoarthritis (UOA). Their cost is relatively small compared with surgical interventions. However, no previous studies have reported their use over a duration of 5 years or more.
Methods: Up to 8 years of prospective data were collected from 63 patients who presented with UOA. After conservative management with analgesia and physiotherapy, patients were offered an unloading brace. EQ-5D (EuroQol five dimensions) questionnaires were collected at baseline and after wearing the brace. Cost and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) were compared with a total knee replacement (TKR) with an 8-month waiting duration and 8 years of results.
Results: Patients experienced a mean increase in EQ-5D of 0.42 with an average duration of wear of 26.1 months resulting in an increase of 0.44 in QALYs with a mean cost of £625. The adoption of an unloader knee brace was found to be a short-term cost-effective treatment option with an 8-month incremental cost effectiveness ratio of £9599. Compared with no treatment, the unloader knee brace can be considered cost effective at 4 months or more. At 8 years follow-up, the unloader knee brace demonstrated QALYs gain of 0.43 and with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of -£6467 compared with TKR.
Conclusion: Unloading knee braces are cost effective for the management of UOA. These findings strongly support the undertaking of further research into the long-term impact of unloading knee brace. The unloader knee brace has benefits to the National Health Service for capacity, budget, waiting list duration, frequency of surgery and reducing the required severity of surgical intervention.
Keywords: Health economics; Unicompartmental Knee Arthritis; Unloading knee brace; cost utility.