It is quite common to see a worker with a brace on their wrist, an athlete with tape on their shoulder, or someone with crutches and a sizeable contraption on their knee. While bracing is by no means a fix-all solution for an injury, it can be a great tool for physical rehabilitation, pain management, and safe exercise. Deciding which brace to use, let alone whether you should use one in the first place, can be confusing. This guide should help you determine how to choose and use braces and other supports.
What is a brace?
A brace is an external support that is made to fit a limb, extremity, or other part of the body. They can be made from a range of materials that vary based on the nature of the injury or condition, the amount of support required for the intended use, and the level of comfort desired. It is very important that a brace is selected with an intended purpose in mind, whether it be to compress tissues, restrict motion, or optimize function. A few common conditions or situations that can be treated with a brace include, but are not limited to:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Why would I use a brace?
Braces serve a few purposes. In general, they are meant to provide some sort of support to a body part that is lacking in stability. They can restrict undesired movement and absorb excessive forces that would otherwise cause more damage to the injured tissue. This means that a properly selected and fitted brace can allow people to participate in modified activities in a safe and relatively less painful way.
Additionally, braces can enhance proprioception - our ability to detect and monitor our body’s positioning. Having something in contact with the injured body part gives more feedback to our brain regarding movement, meaning our muscles can be more readily activated to support ourselves through daily activities.
Braces can also provide strategic compression to improve circulation to the injured area. This can promote warming of the tissues to increase pliability, protect from injury, and prevent premature fatigue.
These functions mean that braces can be helpful in preventing further injury and speeding up the rehabilitation process. A good indicator that you should consider bracing is if you have an injury or condition that is recent, still healing, and it is difficult to reduce load or range of motion on its own. Additionally, people with chronic instability or recurrent injuries may find that a brace allows them to reduce the frequency of injury and enhance daily activities.
What about tape?
There are two main types of tape to look at - athletic tape and kinesiology tape.
Athletic tape is quite rigid and, if applied correctly by a trained professional, can mimic the bracing support of a proper brace on limbs and extremities.
Where braces are very supportive and sometimes large and restrictive, kinesiology tape is far less supportive, but typically more comfortable and allows you to move more freely due to its ability to stretch and contour the skin. While kinesiology tape claims to alter blood flow and muscle recruitment, this is not confirmed by research and has been debated. The main benefit is increasing proprioception in the targeted area and is especially helpful for athletes who want to improve body awareness, but need to preserve full range of motion for their sport. Kinesiology tape should not be a heavily relied-on tactic for injury rehabilitation and prevention, but rather a supporting strategy in regaining and maintaining function following injury.
All of this information can be helpful in deciding if you need to take the next steps to get extra support. Here at AIM, we can select and order custom fitted braces and find the best support for your injury. Call, email, or go through our online portal to book your appointment today.