Wrist braces are one of the most commonly used pieces of medical equipment in the modern world. Why? Because they are so incredibly useful. In truth, 'wrist brace' is an incredibly general term meaning any specially designed wearable used to support, protect, or restrict the movement of a wrist. They can be made to fit the right or left hand and some braces are universal, meaning they can be used on either wrist based on how you configure them. Wrist braces can be used to keep your wrist safe after an injury or prevent an injury you know is a risk. They are often used to relieve long-term wrist pain conditions and are frequently recommended or even prescribed by doctors for specific recovery plans.
If you're not sure whether you should be wearing a wrist brace for recovery or relief, here's a quick run-down of the most common reasons (but by no means all the reasons) to wear a wrist brace.
Support for Sports Training
While most people may think of wrist braces as a response to pain or injury, athletes know that they can be used to prevent injury as well. Not all braces are rigid to protect or splint an injury. In athletics. there's a constant risk of accidentally over-extending and causing a sprain or twisting painfully out of alignment. Many sports and practicing for them can also induce repetitive motion injuries as well. A firm elastic wrist brace without or with very small rigid panels can help athletes avoid these common injuries and the downtime that they cause by preventing the wrist from going beyond a healthy range of motion and in some cases distributing stress over a greater area.
Stocking and Shipping
Of course, repetitive motion injuries aren't just for athletes. Most people do something at work over and over again that can result in damage to the wrists or other key joints. Those who work in stocking and shipping, constantly hauling boxes and flats of inventory, are at an especially high risk for wrist injuries because they are alway lifting and moving heavy objects and repeating the same motions many times in a row most of the days in a year. Wearing a supportive brace like an athlete is a great way to avoid injury and if you do ever get a sprain or cumulative repeated motion damage, a more rigid wrist brace can help you recover and get back to work more quickly.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome usually results from working primarily with your hands on a keyboard or controller. Given the digital nature of modern life and work, it is incredibly common among the many desk-based occupations. Anyone who works mainly through small motion finger manipulation is at risk for carpal tunnel though jobs involving intense vibration like jackhammer operation can also be a problem. Carpal tunnel syndrome usually results in pain, tingling, numbness, and occasional difficulty moving the thumb and first two fingers. It is caused by constant excess pressure on the median nerve which runs through the 'carpal tunnel' inside your wrist. A wrist brace (often worn in pairs in this case) can help you relieve that pressure and is an important part of carpal tunnel treatment. Many people wear braces mostly at night and use an ergonomic keyboard during the day to reduce pressure on the nerve.
After a sprain or other minor internal wrist injury, your wrist is likely to swell significantly unless you take steps to prevent and reduce the inflammation. Swelling will make your wrist both more tender and more difficult to move. To reduce and control swelling, it's important to adhere to the RICE principles of injury recovery. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. A wrist brace serves two purposes after a sprain, to support the injured area and compress the wrist to keep the swelling down. While you can use an elastic bandage for this purpose, a wrist brace with straps is faster and easier to put on and take off. How long you wear the wrist brace should be determined by the severity of your injury, your planned activities during recovery, and how long it takes for the swelling to stop.
Prevent Further Injury
Once the swelling has gone down from a wrist injury, you no longer need the compression of a tight elastic-enforced wrist brace but you may still need to protect the injury from further damage through misuse. If you're like most people, you don't have time to take several weeks off from work and other activities but at the same time, you also don't want to do additional damage to the wrist by trying to lift something too heavy, hold something at the wrong angle, or simply forget that the wrist is in recovery simply because it has stopped hurting. A rigid wrist brace can act as a motion restriction to keep you from over-extending as a tendon heals, armor to protect from accidental impacts, and support to help it distribute any lifting work you need to do. It can also serve as a physical reminder that your wrist is still injured and needs to be treated gently.
Tendonitis is a unique form of repetitive motion injury which is normally caused by overuse of the wrist. It is very similar and often confused with carpal tunnel syndrome but doesn't actually have anything to do with the eponymous carpal tunnel area of the wrist. With tendonitis, overuse of the wrist through light or heavy use at a computer desk, stock room, or sports field results in steady minor damage to and eventual inflammation of the tendons in your wrist that tie your fingers to the muscles in your arm. Overuse without warmups and exercises, something that rarely occurs to office workers and manual laborers, will cause the arm muscles to tighten, pulling the tendons too tight. This combined with the repetitive motion create strain, tiny tendon tears like a sprain, and friction damage from fast, constant overuse. This causes the tendons to swell, hurt, and limit motion. Wrist braces for tendonitis can reduce pain and the amount that repetitive motion at work can damage the wrist. They work best when combined with exercises that warm up and loosen your arm muscles.
Arthritis can happen to almost anyone because it's not caused by activity. Arthritis of the wrist occurs when all the buffer cartilage in your wrist wears away allowing those tiny wrist bones to rub directly against each other. This can be incredibly painful, cause swelling, and restricts the comfortable movements of the wrist without actually stopping movement altogether. While there are many effective treatments for arthritis, one of the best ways to reduce this painful bone rubbing is to partially immobilize your wrist with braces that keep them from moving too much, especially during activities that are particularly painful.
Wrist braces are used for support, recovery, immobilization, compression, and protection though usually not all at once. Whether you're an athlete avoiding injury during practice, a diligent desk jockey treating tendonitis or anyone recovering from a common wrist sprain, there's a perfect wrist brace out there that will help you achieve your goals and keep your wrist safe in the future. For more information about wrist braces or other sports-related medical equipment, please contact us today!