> What does a brace do?
A brace is a medical aid you put on to help support a joint. The reason for using one may be a lack of stability or strength, or the joint may be subject to pain or swelling. A carefully measured, correctly fitted brace will restrict any overly acute bending of the joint without unnecessarily impeding the pattern of movement required for a particular sport. Almost all braces work by applying external pressure, or compression, and providing mechanical support. A brace can be used to support a number of joints, including the ankle, knee, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck and lower back. A brace is easy to fit and is a convenient aid to help cushion the considerable force imposed on a joint. They are obviously not designed to prevent every new injury, however. This cushioning effect does not mean that these forces can be eradicated altogether, but fortunately, most of them can be. Scientific research on the ankle joint has produced satisfactory proof that both taping and bracing successfully tempers unwanted outward lean. The effect is maintained when a load is exercised on the joint provided that the brace (or tape) is applied correctly. The effect of an ankle brace is almost the same as that of ankle tape. In short, the advantage of a brace is reduced skin irritation, it is easy to fit and it is cheaper.
> How do I choose a brace?
If a brace has been prescribed or recommended, it is wise to go to a professional establishment that specialises in medical aids or rehabilitation articles. Some physiotherapists sell braces and they can also give you good advice. Choosing the right size and type of brace requires additional know-how. Always consult an expert for this kind of specialised work.
> What activities can I use a brace for?
A brace can be used in activities with a high risk of sprains or twists combined with swelling, loss of function and/or pain. These kinds of high-risk situations can occur in ordinary day-to-day life and free time, particularly when people are active in sports. Sports which involve a lot of turning and jumping, such as most contact, team and jumping sports, have the highest risk in terms of injuries to ligaments and joints. A brace is an effective aid in the prevention of these kinds of injuries.
> Is it true that wearing a brace can weaken your muscles?
No. This is just another myth and this can be proved by making a simple calculation. An average sports enthusiast in the Netherlands is active in some kind of sport 3 to 4 times a week. During these activities, someone may put on an ankle brace to prevent new injuries. This does not mean that the ankle muscles are no longer used, however. During the rest of the week, away from the sport, the ankle muscles are stimulated enough – 168 hours, less hours of sleep, sport and sitting down – to prevent them getting weaker. In addition, the braces are functional; movements not involving a risk are allowed to a high degree, so that muscles remain active. It is also true that brace manufacturers will not recommend their products without pointing out the importance of muscle training. After an injury to an ankle ligament, for example, every sports enthusiast should build up the ankle muscles and improve the co-ordination around the ankle. So if you wear a brace, muscle exercises are important as well.
> Can I use a brace for walking or are they just made for sport?
A brace is not only intended for sport. A knee or ankle brace can also be useful when you go walking, particularly when walking on uneven surfaces such as in the woods or dunes. But generally speaking, in everyday activities without risk of injury, you do not really need a brace, provided that the instability is not excessive.
> I have kneecap problems when I walk up and down stairs. Would a brace help?
A special knee brace can alleviate knee problems caused by walking up and down stairs. These problems are usually the result of a kneecap that does not track properly, which in turn irritates the cartilage behind it. Sometimes, a patella tendon brace can ease the pressure on a kneecap, thus reducing or preventing the problems.
> How long do you have to wear a brace?
A brace can often be needed for some time. Take the ankle brace for example. Guidelines for their use depend on a number of factors. The most important is the amount of play in the ankle ligaments in combination with the ankle muscles that are designed to actively absorb that play. It will always remain of importance which sport is practised. The type of sport is also important. Sports which involve a lot of turning and jumping pose an added risk to a new ankle injury. Sports enthusiasts who suffer from ‘weak ankles’ and are active in high-risk sports would be well advised to wear some kind of ankle protection for the rest of their sporting life. An ankle brace is then as much a part of the sports gear as shoes and sports clothing. This may sound tiresome, inconvenient and expensive, but users will eventually discover that wearing a brace is simple, does not get in the way and can prevent a lot of unpleasant ailments. People who opt for less strenuous sports in terms of turning and jumping, such as long-distance running, cycling, swimming or rowing, usually only have to wear a brace for 3 to 6 months. After that, the ankle muscles should be able to cope without any form of support.
> Should I keep my brace on in bed?
Yes, a brace can be worn while asleep when this is desirable for a certain treatment. However, it is advised to loosen the bands somewhat to avoid the risk that blood vessels are pinched off.
> What is the difference between a sports brace and an elastic bandage?
A brace provides more support than an elastic bandage, which is flexible but, despite applying pressure and protecting the skin, does not provide a great deal of mechanical support. So, in the case of a lack of stability after a sprained knee/ankle, for example, a brace is far more effective.
> What is a brace’s useful life?
A brace can be worn and washed hundreds of times, but it will wear out eventually. The degree of wear will depend on the type of brace, how often it is used, the amount of perspiration produced and the local frictional forces. An ankle brace will wear more quickly than a wrist brace for example. A brace’s useful life also depends on good maintenance. Maintenance instructions are supplied by the manufacturer. A brace that is used intensively 2 or 3 times a week will wear out after about 12 to 18 months. If tears or manufacturing defects occur much earlier, you should take the brace back to the shop where you bought it.