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Support Products: When Do You Need a Brace?

Support Products: When Do You Need a Brace?

Whether you've recently suffered an injury, had surgery, or have been suffering from long-term pain, your doctor or physical therapist may prescribe a brace, wrap, or other support product. These products can be useful for injuries at all levels from minor to severe, but how do you know what's best for your condition? This overview is here to help.

 Knee Brace


There are two main reasons to wear braces or other support products: structural support and pain relief. Most of the time, braces are worn immediately after an injury, but they can be worn in response to long-term pain or even as a protective method.

The three basic types of braces are:

Within these three broad categories, different types of braces can exist. Unloader braces, which shift weight from a damaged area to a stronger one, are most commonly used for arthritis patients. Complex areas such as the knee or shoulder may have braces that fully immobilize (boots for feet and ankles also fit here), or ones that stabilize specific areas where damage has occurred. This is particularly common for braces designed for support and healing after surgeries to repair damaged or torn ligaments.

Areas that are commonly braced following injury or surgery:

In some cases, bracing will be used to help deal with long-term pain or damage, such as conditions like tennis elbow and runner's knee. However, some of these conditions may be more easily managed with compression bandages, wraps, sleeves, or even slings.

Back Braces

The use of back braces can differ somewhat from braces meant for injured joints or extremities. Back pain is susceptible to recurrence because the spinal musculature contracts, often with spasms, in order to protect the injured or inflamed joints or soft tissue. Many back braces have compression straps to both stabilize the spine as well as help prevent these flare-ups of back pain. Support belts may also be used for this purpose, especially for back support during certain jobs.


Knee Brace Wrap Compression Bandage

Compression Bandages and Sleeves

Elastic bandages, best known as compression bandages, limit blood flow to an injured area in order to keep swelling down. Compression sleeves may also be used to help manage long-term pain or blood circulation.

Wraps and bands may also serve the same purpose as compression sleeves. Generally, compression will be used on

Some tips on compression:

  • Use compression bandages in the first 24-48 hours after an injury.
  • Combine rest and elevation with compression; don't combine ice and compression at the same time.
  • Don't wrap elastic bandages too tightly; you don't want to totally cut off circulation.
  • Don't use compression bandages to prevent re-injury; they don't provide that kind of support.



Slings are typically used for arms after injuries like a fractured shoulder, wrist, or elbow. They're designed to keep an arm in place to prevent painful movement and aid in healing.


Knee Brace Hot Pack Cold Wrap

Cold Packs

Cold therapy, including methods such as cold packs and wraps, reduces the blood flow to an affected area, which can reduce inflammation and swelling. It may also reduce nerve activity in the area, which alleviates pain. Along with compression bandages discussed above, ice is best used for acute injuries. You may have heard the classic mnemonic for soft tissue injuries, RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Some tips on cold packs and ice:

  • Use cold on anything acute: sprains, bruises, muscle tears or pulls.
  • Don't use cold on stiff muscles or joints, or muscle pain without a clear injury causing it.
  • Don't apply a cold wrap directly to the skin unless it's designed to do that safely.


Hot Packs

Hot packs and wraps are best used on long-term aching or soreness without a clear cause. It works by improving the circulation and blood flow to an affected area, which can relax muscles, reduce pain, and may even heal damaged tissue.

Some tips on hot packs and heat:

  • Use heat on anything long-lasting: general pain, acute soreness, localized stiffness and pain.
  • Don't use heat on acute injuries or acute inflammation such as arthritis flare-ups.



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