Bracing or Splinting as Treatment


Braces and splints are proven low-cost aides that often provide effective relief for chronic pain. They reduce swelling and pain as well as offer joint support. A brace or splint immobilizes the afflicted joint in the proper position in order to promote healing. Bracing or splinting limits motion in order to prevent worsening pain and inflammation, provides support to a stiff joint, and stabilizes the affected joint.

Braces and splints work best if they fit properly. An occupational or physical therapist can custom make a brace or splint of hard or soft material to fit a particular patient. An orthotist can also make specialized support devices that are tailored to fit a patient's needs.

Braces and splints are used on various types of conditions and/or injuries. From a chronic-pain standpoint, braces and/or splints are sometimes used as a treatment for the following conditions: carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, osteoarthritis, lower-back pain, muscle strains, spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions (when a physician deems it necessary and/or beneficial). Braces and splints have little-to-no side effects although some patients report skin irritation.

Pressure on the median nerve that runs along the arm, through the wrist, and into the hand causes carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage (about an inch wide) in which the median nerve travels through the wrist and into the hand. The median nerve controls the movement of the thumb and all the fingers except the pinky. When the median nerve is pressured (often due to repetitive motions), the carpal tunnel is narrowed which causes numbness, tingling, pain, decreased ability to move the fingers, and possibly the inability to use the thumb to pinch. A splint is often used as a treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome in hopes that surgery can be avoided. The splint keeps the wrist immobilized which reduces pressure on the median nerve resulting in fewer symptoms. Keeping the wrist immobilized gives the median nerve time to rest.

Neck pain should always be diagnosed by a health-care professional. If the diagnosis is muscle spasms or inflammation to the neck area, a neck brace may be prescribed. The brace provides stability to the affected area which allows the muscles to rest; therefore, pain and inflammation decrease.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in joints. It can occur in any joint in the body but is often found in the knees. A knee unloader brace is often used to reduce osteoarthritis pain. It works by stabilizing ligaments and tendons in and around the knee which reduces pressure on the knee joint. Knee braces also help prevent falls by providing the knee support it otherwise does not have.

Low-back pain ranges from mild to extreme and is caused by a variety of things. It is important to determine the cause of back pain through a visit to a health-care provider. A few conditions that often cause low-back pain include different types of arthritis, inflammation, trauma or injury, disk problems, and fibromyalgia. A physician may prescribe a back brace to help with back pain. Spinal braces often help stabilize the back and provide the support needed to ease the pain and aid in the healing process.

Muscle strains are more common in the legs, ankles, and lower back but can occur in almost any part of the body. Tendons can also strain or tear. A brace and/or splint is often recommended as they provide stability and support to the affected area allowing the muscle or tendon to rest and heal.

The spinal cord contains a bundle of nerves which travel and carry messages from the brain to the rest of the body; this allows the body to feel, touch, and move. Spinal cord injuries are the result of many things, and a health-care professional needs to be consulted for a proper diagnosis. If recommended, spinal cord braces are used to help support and stabilize the spine. They also provide a corrective force when ligaments cannot.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) develops when joint linings are mistakenly targeted by the immune system. RA is a destructive arthritis that weakens the joints. Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis can often find relief with a brace. A brace helps reduce inflammation by ensuring the joint is stabilized. If the wrist is affected by RA, a wrist brace often assists in improving grip.

A healthcare provider should always be consulted before wearing a brace or splint. Because prolonged use of brace or splint can weaken the muscle and cause stiff joints, monitoring by a physician is important. A brace or splint that does not fit correctly or is worn improperly can cause additional damage. It is imperative to follow a doctor's orders if using a brace or splint as a treatment option.

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