The body is an amazing piece of work. Every cell, tissue, muscle, ligament, joint, and bone works in a harmonious manner to allow the body to stand up, walk, run and move. But when an individual suffers an injury to their muscle, bone or joints, strength and stability are compromised.
The pain, damage, and loss of activity can range from mild to severe. Often, the recovery recommendation is rest, but our active lifestyles don’t always allow for this. Providing the pain with compression and heat in the form of a medical brace is one way to speed up the healing process and limit the discomfort you feel.
Whether you have been injured through activity or sports, are needing to recover from minor surgery or are suffering from a condition such as arthritis or kyphosis, a medical brace or sleeve can work wonders in helping you recover while allowing you to maintain your range of motion.
Medical Braces: An Overview
Medical braces are specific tools and devices that address a certain medical condition that could have naturally developed or come around as a result of an injury or an accident. They help to bring back strength, balance, and independence to people who find their daily lives have been negatively affected by the pain, discomfort, and limit in movement caused.
These devices can help build stability and make patients more comfortable during the rehabilitation period when they are working towards attaining full health once again. They are also recommended for use to prevent further injuries, such as during exercise. When worn, they can prevent joints and muscles from undergoing unnatural movement, especially if the body part is weak from past sprains or strains.
Most medical sleeves and braces also provide the joint area with heat. Warmth is vital in the recovery process, as it encourages blood circulation to the body part and therefore the oxygen too, which is vital in healing. It also ensures the body part will be as normal as possible once the rehabilitation has finished in terms of shape and function.
Originally designed for management of various musculoskeletal disorders, medical braces are used for both chronic conditions and acute injuries. Studies have shown them to improve physical function, decrease pain, and in some cases, slow disease progression.
For example, further damage is prevented by a brace or a cast as it limits the body parts mobility without taking it completely out of action. This is especially useful for unstable joints and fractures. Braces such as posture correctors and prenatal supports can also be used to reduce the load from a body part, evenly distributing it elsewhere for a more natural stature and to give time for the body part to heal itself.
Most minor sprains, strains, and injuries can heal themselves without surgery as long as they are well cared for. Bones, for example, can naturally grow and recover as long as the injury is not extensive and severe. Giving them a little bit of assistance in the form of a brace could serve as a start of a helpful rehabilitative program, as well as speeding up the overall process and improving the future condition of the body part.
There are medical braces available for almost every part of the body which can commonly suffer injury. These are the most popular types of medical brace:
Foot and Ankle Braces
Most of you have probably suffered from at least one ankle sprain or strain in your life or you know someone else who has. Do you remember the device that the medical professional puts around the ankle? Those are foot and ankle braces.
It is basically a garment that is designed to be worn around the ankle to protect the joints and bones from any further strain, as everybody is well aware that even the slightest amount of pressure placed on them can result in additional damage.
Foot and ankle medical braces are used to substantially immobilize the joint to pave the way for healing and the rehabilitation process. Some models can also be used to protect the ankle from injuries by those who are involved in sports such as basketball, soccer, rugby, and athletics, through which damage is common. Different medical conditions often call for different brace materials and compression levels.
Normally, foot and ankle braces are made from a rigid fabric such as nylon or neoprene, which still allows limited joint mobility. They are often held together by Velcro or laces to ensure a proper and adaptable fit. At times, complete immobilization and rigidity are needed to help heal, so there are braces available which contain metal plates and bars for a stronger shape.
Examples of medical situations where foot and ankle braces may be used are ankle traumas without fracture, postoperative synovitis (link), joint immobilization, degenerative sprain, and joint inflammations. Athletes are also at high risk of sprains and therefore sometimes use foot and ankle sleeves as a preventative measure.
Despite their work, some say that ankle braces also have slight drawbacks. Some people feel that they are inconvenient and burdensome, often limiting daily movement and actions as the compression may mean you can’t freely move, or they may not fit into your shoes. Skin irritations can happen if they are worn for long periods and getting the exact fit is of major concern. In the end, what patients must understand is that foot and ankle braces are only a part of the general rehabilitation program and cannot provide 100% correction.
These are often used to provide comfort and pressure to a painful or injured knee. It helps reduce pain as it shifts the weight away from the problematic joint and limits the possibility of unnatural movement, thus letting you get around more comfortably without the danger of causing more damage to the already sensitive portion.
Knee braces come in a variety of designs and are usually made from a combination of both rigid and flexible materials. They should provide just the right amount of support, as well as comfort. For that, they usually have synthetic rubber or some form of foam padding that molds perfectly to the knee.
In general, there are four types of knee braces. Let us run through the specifications:
- Prophylactic – These are the ones commonly advised by sports rehab doctors to be used to protect the knees before an injury, especially in contact sports.
- Functional braces – These are specifically for knees which have already been injured. They are designed to provide rigid support and relieve some of the pain, but still, give a good range of motion.
- Rehabilitative braces – These are rigid and provide the ultimate support for knees that are healing after an injury or surgery. They limit knee movement to a minimum which can allow the knee to fully heal and recover.
- Patellofemoral braces – These are designed to assist the kneecap in moving smoothly over the knee joint which prevents further injuries and avoids pain. Ideal for anybody who has damaged their patella or feels sensitivity when kneeling or moving. They can either leave the patella uncovered and surrounded by support or covered by a thick gel pad, depending on your particular strain.
Different knee problems call for different knee braces. However, the more rigid models should only be used when advised by a physician and one thing to keep in mind when choosing a knee brace is that the most expensive option is not always the best.
Shoulder Braces and Slings
Assisting a patient after injury in a variety of ways, shoulder braces and slings provide reliable support to the shoulder whilst compressing the surrounding skin and tissues as well. They reduce the range of motion in order to decrease the high risk of dislocation in an already injured shoulder.
Experts also think that shoulder braces and slings provide a placebo effect. For example, in athletes who have been experiencing pain in their shoulders, a brace provides comfort and assurance that their shoulders are well taken care of, therefore helping them feel better mentally too.
If you are wondering why compressing the surrounding skin is important for a shoulder brace and sling, it is because this is believed to enhance the skin receptors which send messages to the brain about the shoulder position. Researches have led to the conclusion that those with subluxation or dislocation tend to have decreased awareness of the unstable shoulder.
Lastly, shoulder braces and slings offer skin protection too, which is of high importance to protect the shoulder from bumps and knocks that could increase pain in the body part. If you are thinking of using a shoulder brace or sling mainly for protection from external causes, you might want to use the neoprene ones widely available on the market. These offer support without restriction. In addition, they can be used during sports for extra padding.
The different types of shoulder braces and slings include arm immobilizers, sling and swathe, shoulder stabilizer, shoulder support, shoulder harness, shoulder wrap, shoulder protector, and reinforced shoulder braces.
Wrist Support Braces
Wrist support braces are not only used for wrist injuries but are also used for naturally developing conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury, which could have occurred over time through your work or day-to-day activities.
Wrist injuries can be classified into two groups – acute injuries, which are caused by immediate sudden damage through an accident or injury, and overuse injuries which often become established over time after there is just too much burden put on the wrist and it cannot keep up with the healing process anymore.
Mainly for protection and healing, wrist support braces basically immobilize the joint and provide heat and compression to the bones and surrounding ligaments in the area. They are normally made from rigid tissue nylon fabrics or neoprene, with Velcro fastenings for a better and more comfortable fit. For severe cases, metal spines are incorporated to render the joint completely immobile.
Other known uses of wrist braces are wrist trauma without fracture, postoperative conditions such as carpal tunnel surgery, synovitis, tendinitis, joint immobilization, degenerative sprains, and articulation inflammations. In sports, they can offer protection to those who need the use of their wrist regularly, such as in weightlifting, bodybuilding or tennis.
Ankle braces heal existing problems and prevent further injuries. Given that ankle sprain remains one of the most common sports-related injuries across the world, wearing ankle braces, splints, and the like proves to be a practical method to avoid injury.
It has been said that ankle bracing evolved from ankle taping. It provides more advantages, however, such as being easier to apply, reusable, more comfortable, and re-adjustable. In addition, it is around three times less expensive than ankle taping. Experts also believe that ankle braces are more effective than taping, but should never take the place of aggressive rehabilitation in the form of continuous physical therapy.
Posture braces are used to treat or reduce the symptoms of medical conditions such as abnormal spinal development or injuries. They come in a wide range of different types, all suitable for varying conditions and levels of pain: posture braces, posture correction shirts, posture correction devices and prenatal supports.
Posture braces are often the strongest and most corrective forms of medical braces, mainly used for heavy treatments and abnormal spinal corrections. Posture correction shirts are slightly less severe and are more likely to provide relief to the person as opposed to actually correcting the posture. Wearable electronic smart posture trainers are designed to be almost unnoticeable, and mentally train your future posture as opposed to physically adjusting it. The special prenatal supports are used by pregnant women to support their body weight and shift the burden from their growing heavy bump and towards their back area.
Cervical Neck Braces
This is actually the most common type of a cervical neck spine brace that can be used for a variety of purposes including neck stabilization after cervical spine surgery or to ease the pain of neck trauma or injury such as a whiplash.
You probably have seen cervical neck braces on people who have fallen and might have hurt their neck or those involved in a motor vehicle accident. In both cases, the sudden impact can jerk the neck and head uncomfortably, causing immense pain.
Cervical neck braces are also called collars, cervical collars, or its most famous term, C-collars. There are different types of cervical collars. Let us discuss each type briefly:
- Soft and Hard Collars – These are the most flexible type as they are made from polyurethane foam rubber. They can be easily wrapped around the neck rendering it instantly immobile, and further secured with Velcro. Soft collars are used when the worst part of the rehabilitation is over and the healing process is about to end. They serve as a helpful transition from a hard brace to no braces at all. Hard collars, on the other hand, are made of polyethylene and provide absolute support and pain relief.
- Philadelphia Collar – This is a stiff foam collar that is composed of two parts, secured together with Velcro too. They support not just the neck but the lower jaw and upper thoracic spine. This type offers the most area coverage, therefore providing the greatest above shoulder movement restrictions.
- Halo Device – This is the most rigid among all the types and is used to totally prevent the head and neck from any movement, including turning. It also serves as a spinal traction and is frequently helpful for those with scoliosis.
- Sterno-Occipital-Mandibular Immobilization Device – This is another rigid cervical brace that aligns the neck with the spine while rendering immobility for the head and neck. This type is used for those who have severe neck injuries or cervical pain caused by a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Elbow Braces and Wraps
The human body can be difficult to understand. Some bones and joints need to be rendered entirely immobile for them to heal while there are certain types of injuries where the joints and bones do not benefit from any restriction. The elbow is a great example of a body part where it does not help to fully restrict motion.
The reason behind this is because elbows consist mostly of muscle and tendon. However, if the bone is totally broken, then that would be another case. But remember that as long as your elbow is not broken, it does not have to be in a cast and an elbow brace or wrap should do the trick.
Elbow pain is usually alarming because of the terrible shooting pain which can occur if a wrong move is made. Tennis players frequently get a condition called tennis elbow, caused by excessive motion, and may need to wear elbow braces and wraps. But unfortunately, the problem isn’t just limited to sports players. Everyone can get it, especially those whose elbows are constantly subjected to physical activities that lead to wear and tear such as lifting and packing at work or using any equipment.
Physicians frequently advise that once you feel there is pain somewhere around the elbow, have it checked out immediately so that preventive measures such as elbow braces and wraps can be prescribed or recommended and any further damage can be prevented.
A serious case of further elbow pain could be a tendon tear, which poses a bigger problem if it does not totally heal as the joint will gradually break down up to the point where the pain becomes unbearable and surgery is the only option left.
Finger and Thumb Support
Since we now live in a world where most jobs consist of sitting in front of a computer and typing most of the day, finger and thumb problems have greatly increased. People are even seeing issues arise from their use of typewriters or machinery 20+ years ago.
However, most people try to ignore this for as long as they can. They try to endure the pain because most people do not want to be limited in action and are not aware that there are various finger and thumb supports readily available on the market today.
The range of finger and thumb splints available can help those who suffer from joint arthritis (including finger joints), rheumatoid arthritis, DeQuervain’s, tendinitis, and ulnar deviation. From Buddy Loops where only the affected fingers are wrapped, to finger and wrist slings and neoprene hand wraps, they all provide a relatively easy and non-surgical treatment process for painful fingers, thumb, and even wrists.
Your physician may also require you to undergo some sort of hand therapy where you will be taught special exercises to encourage normal gliding of the tendon, along with taking some anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling.
One of the most common conditions that require finger and thumb support is trigger finger/trigger thumb, which develops as a result of tendons thickening from constant irritation. This usually happens from rheumatoid arthritis, repeated trauma from grasping the steering wheel for extended hours, and infections. You know you have this when one of your fingers or thumb is bent and cannot be straightened out without you writhing in pain.
There are many different kinds of medical braces and a consultation with your doctor will help you find the best kind that will fit your needs and provide you with the best chance to improve your condition.