How to Choose and Wear an Elbow Brace or Support
You never realize how much you rely on your elbow until it starts to hurt. Conditions such as arthritis and tennis elbow are painful and aggravating. In many cases, an elbow brace or support can help by providing compression and support for the joint.
Before buying an elbow brace or support, the first thing you need to do is understand what’s causing the pain. If you’re not sure, talk to your orthopedist or other healthcare provider.
Read more: Conditions That May Require an Elbow Brace or Support
Elbow Brace Levels of Support
Some elbow conditions need only light support or compression, while others require a rigid, stabilizing elbow brace. When you’re shopping for an elbow brace or support, be aware that there are three levels of support to choose from.
- Light support elbow braces, such as a compression sleeve or elbow strap, provide general relief from pain and swelling.
- Moderate support elbow braces may have straps or extra padding that stabilize the elbow joint and reduce motion.
- Maximum support elbow braces, also called post-operative elbow braces, have a rigid frame that’s hinged at the joint, restricting range of motion. Often the hinge can be adjusted to allow a precise range of flexion and extension. Post-op elbow braces are typically worn after elbow surgery, such as ligament or tendon repair.
Types of Elbow Braces and Supports
Elbow straps or elbow bands are a simple strap made of neoprene or similar material, usually with a Velcro closure. Elbow bands are worn on the forearm directly below the elbow to put pressure on the tendons, relieving conditions like tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. They may be used for elbow support during sports, as well.
Elbow compression sleeves gently compress the entire joint, providing light support and easing pain and swelling. Made of durable, elastic fabric, compression sleeves allow a full range of motion. Elbow compression sleeves can help arthritis pain, sprains and strains, or overuse injuries.
Semi-rigid elbow braces consist of a sleeve that extends from the lower bicep to the upper forearm, like compression sleeves. However, semi-rigid elbow braces include heavyweight adjustable straps for adjusting the level of support, as well as extra padding and compression over the elbow. This type of brace is appropriate for bursitis, hyperextended elbow, and sprains and strains.
Hinged elbow braces are rigid braces, hinged at the joint, that are intended to limit the elbow’s range of motion. A hinged brace may be appropriate after surgery or for more severe cases of hyperextension.
Some elbow straps, bands and braces incorporate heat or cold therapy as well, with elements that can be frozen or warmed.
One last type of support is the elbow and heel protector, also called a decubitus care pad. These soft foam eggshell pads are worn by patients to protect the elbows and heels from injury or pressure sores.
Tips for Wearing an Elbow Brace
- If you’re wearing a tennis elbow strap, placement is key. Slide the strap up your forearm and place it about an inch below (toward the hand) where you’re feeling pain — not on top of the sore spot.
- Tighten your elbow band or brace so that it stays securely in place, but don’t make it so tight that your hand or fingers go numb.
- Generally, you shouldn’t wear an elbow band or compression sleeve around the clock. It’s most helpful when you’re engaging in daily activities that involve your arm muscles.