Bracing In Sports Medicine
From professional sports to the average tennis player you will see a variety of medical braces and supports. As I look around the Maple Leaf dressing room I see a myriad of braces that the players use to protect previously injured areas. These are the most common functional braces, but there are three types of braces that we use in Sport Medicine. These are rehabilitative, functional, and prophylactic braces.
REHABILITATIVE When a part of the body is injured whether or not surgery is required then often we want to limit and protect the injured area. This is provided by a brace that will limit the range of motion of the joint that we want to protect. The amount of limitation in range of motion will depend on the type and severity of injury. Initially we may limit the motion a lot but increase it slowly in the brace as the injury is healing. In the past these injuries were placed in a cast, but this totally immobilized the joint and lead to ""Cast Disease."" We know that a when a joint is immobilized not only do we lose a lot of strength and flexibility in the muscles but there is also weakness developed in the ligaments around the joint. When the athlete is protected in a brace as opposed to a cast we can start functional rehabilitation at an earlier stage. This all helps get the athlete back playing sooner at a more functional level.
PROPHYLACTIC BRACING As a sport medicine physician I would ideally like to prevent all injuries before they happen. I know that this is not possible, but there are certain things we can do to help prevent injuries. One of these ways are special braces designed to prevent injuries. The most common braces to do this are designed for the knee and the ankle. Sports like volleyball have numerous ankle injuries which can be quite disabling. A stirrup type brace designed to prevent ankle sprains while not affecting the players function has worked very well. In the knee braces have been designed to prevent certain ligament injuries. The medical reports have been controversial if in fact the braces do actually prevent knee injuries or even predispose the knee to other ligament injuries. The biggest use of these braces has been with football lineman who receive a lot of trauma to the outside of the knee.
FUNCTIONAL BRACES These are the most common type of braces used by athletes. After an injury an athlete wears a brace to prevent further injury to the injured part or support an area which has been structurally damaged. The most common brace is for the knee after damaged ligaments. The most sophisticated braces are designed for people who have torn their anterior cruciate ligament. There are numerous companies who manufacture these braces at an average cost of $800-$1,000. With the ankle sprain being such a common injury, I recommend that the athlete wear an ankle brace for at least six weeks after a significant ankle sprain.
These braces have proven to be not only cheaper but also more effective than taping an ankle. There are functional braces made for any joint which has been injured. Braces have also been designed for people with arthritis. In arthritis of the knee it is not uncommon to have only part of the knee affected by the arthritis. The role of these braces is to alter the pressure through the knee where the force is going through the healthy part of the knee as opposed to the arthritic part. This will hopefully reduce the pain and delay surgery.
There are braces designed for tendinitis. These are called counterforce braces. The most common type would be for tennis elbow. The purpose of the brace is to dissipate the force going in to the one small inflamed area. The brace also functions to absorb the shock up in to the inflamed area which is causing the inflammation. In summary, bracing as well as the whole field of sport medicine has developed at a fast rate. Athletes can now do sports after an injury with the injured area protected by a brace. While the brace is never the same as an uninjured area they can allow the athlete to function at a high level. This article outlines the different types of braces available to the athlete. A consult with a sport medicine physician will allow you to help decide what if any of the above types of braces might be applicable to your needs.