SPORTS BRACES, MEDICAL AND ORTHOPAEDIC SUPPORTS
Support bracing has now become a huge worldwide industry.
Braces tend to be used for a variety of medical conditions and are designed for different degrees of support or protection.
The concept of bracing is primarily concerned with giving support structurally, functionally or for re-positioning and stabilisation of the joints.
Generally, support braces or splints are used in the field of orthopedics as a result of ageing, in conditions such as osteoarthritis, due to traumatic injuries, or in sports injuries were they may be used to treat an injury.
In some cases, such as ankle braces and knee braces, supports are often used to prevent injury, or with pre-existing sports injuries to prevent a recurrence of the knee or ankle injury.Tennis player Andy Murray regularly wears ankle support to prevent ankle sprains during matches.
Since the sciences of sports taping and bracing or splinting of joints have the same treatment aims, the design of ankle braces or knee supports very often follow the techniques used with sports tape. So, for example, you can get a PSB Ankle Brace 8 which is designed to follow the figure of 8 technique used in Athletic Taping.
Other ankle braces will have a splint which is equivalent to a "Stirrup" of zinc oxide tape used in the basket weave technique, while knee taping uses the sports tape to form similar attachment splints, both medially and laterally on the knee joint to support the collateral ligaments.
While sports braces often use athletic taping as the template for the design of supports, braces which are not used in sport may simply be designed for compression or created with a much more complex structure.
How to choose a brace or support?
Firstly, it is important that you take advice before opting to buy an brace or support. In some cases the restrictions created by enveloping the joint in a brace may not be what's indicated. Simple ankle sprains, for example, may simply require rest, ice, elevation and compression with a tubular bandage, and once the ankle pain and swelling have subsided a programme of active rehabilitation where the muscles are exercised.
However, when a brace is indicated, the level of compression and mechanical support must be assessed.
For minor sprains or low level pain, where it is only necessary to apply compression to a joint, the choice of a lower level support may be appropriate. This may be a neoprene sleeve or an ankle support such as The Push Care ankle brace. While this style of support will not offer any mechanical or functional bracing element, they offer compression and heat around a joint which many patients and athletes find helpful. It is no surprise that knee supports are most commonly seen in marathon runners where they offer a sense of psychological support alongside the physiological compression.
The choice of a functional or mechanical brace, is more complex. If it is a sports brace, for example, it is important that it is not too bulky. What sport is it for? Do Governing Body's allow bracing?
On the ski slopes you'll see a collection of ski knee braces or wrist and thumb braces because of the vulnerability of these joints during skiing, while in professional Rugby players tend to use zinc oxide tape such as Strappal and Leukotape P for mechanical support of the knee or ankle.
Sports braces tend to be used in amateur sports where taping techniques may not be widely known. A good fitting knee or ankle support will offer greater stability than inexpertly applied sport tape.
Choice of bracing in arthritis and hospital led orthopaedics will largely be determined by consultants and specialized physiotherapists, but with NHS constraints the quality of braces offered by the British Health Service is not reflective of the range of professional medical braces available to patients.
A chartered physiotherapist in Private Practice will be able to offer to advise to patients with regards to appropriate choices for orthopaedic supports.