Braces are available for a number of different injuries. Bracing has been shown to decrease pain, improve function, reduce swelling, and psychologically provide more confidence in the injured body part. However, how do you know when it would be appropriate to use a brace? Below we will discuss the benefits of bracing and address some common questions about using a brace.

Prevention of injury:

There is some research which has examined whether bracing a non-injured joint will prevent injuries. Studies have looked mainly at knee and ankle bracing in sports such as soccer and football in order to shed light on whether or not it helps prevent injuries such as ACL, MCL and lateral ankle sprains. Overall, the evidence is controversial, with studies suggesting that it may only be effective in certain positions in football, while being most effective for individuals with prior injuries.

Post-injury:

Braces are used most often following an injury to:

  1. Limit movement;
  2. Provide compression to help with swelling;
  3. Reduce pain;
  4. Provide support;
  5. Provide proprioception (increase awareness of the joint);
  6. Increase confidence as the athlete will feel more secure and stable

Common Injuries that bracing can help:

  • Tennis elbow;
  • Ankle sprain: Research has shown that an ankle brace post injury can decrease the chance of reinjury by 71%;
  • Patellar tracking;
  • ACL/MCL/LCL/PCL knee injuries;
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee: Research has shown that bracing to unload an arthritic knee joint is effective in decreasing pain, joint stiffness and medication use. It also improves proprioception, balance and function;
  • Wrist injuries (i.e., carpal tunnel syndrome)

Common questions about bracing:

  • Will a brace make my muscles lazy and weak? 

Studies have shown that long-term use of a brace has no negative effect on muscle strength, function or proprioception. A recent study examined the use of wearing a knee brace for 7 hours daily over a 6-12 week period, and actually found an increase in quadriceps strength and decreased muscle inhibition after the 6 week period (Callaghan et al., 2016).

  • Will a brace hinder my performance?

As long as the brace fits properly and isn’t too bulky, it shouldn’t have a negative impact on sport performance. Research has shown ankle and knee braces do not impede vertical jump, speed tasks or dynamic balance. However, studies do mention a “break in” period, lasting roughly 3 days, in which initially athletes will have a decrease in performance as they get used to the brace. 

  • Is it worth the extra money