The new adjustable unloader braces have become very popular. Pain relief and reduced stiffness in the knee is accompanied by improved function and performance. A recent study at the University of Chicago Motion Analysis Lab may have the answer to your question.
They took 10 athletes with known knee arthritis from poor knee alignment that caused medial joint space narrowing and arthritis. The medial side of the joint is closest to the other knee.
Each athlete either wore a custom-fit or off-the-shelf unloader brace for four or five weeks. After a two week break, each athlete switched to whichever brace wasn't worn the first time. Braces were worn daily for an average of eight or nine hours.
X-rays of leg alignment and computerized motion analysis were measured at different walking speeds and while going up and down stairs. The custom-fit brace was able to maintain better knee alignment, especially during the stair activities. Stiffness was reduced much more with the custom-fit brace.
The researchers reported that the closeness of the brace fit on the leg is important. Anyone with a medial joint alignment problem can benefit from an off-the-shelf type brace. The better results needed by athletes come with the use of a custom-fit brace.