If you’ve ever wandered around in a sporting goods store or pharmacy, you’ve likely noticed an aisle largely dedicated to different wraps, braces, bandages, and tape designed to help an athlete recover from an injury or ease pain. But not all braces are created equal, and not every injury requires a brace. There are certainly times and situations where braces can get your athlete safely back onto the field while recovering properly and reducing risk of re-injury, but the brace must be used correctly.
Here, Michele LaBotz, TrueSport Expert and sports medicine physician, explains why an athlete may need an ankle or knee brace, and what you need to know to ensure that your athlete is on the right road to recovery.
Braces aren’t a cure-all
“There are times when using braces can be helpful for athletes and there are times when they can create additional problems,” says LaBotz. “Putting a brace on a joint that is sore or injured without the guidance of either the athletic trainer or a healthcare professional is not the best way to go. Braces are not substitutes for other things like a medical assessment or physical therapy recommendations. If all you do is put a brace on your athlete, and you don’t address the underlying issue, that brace actually gives the athlete a false sense of protection and could cause further injury. You’re also not getting to the heart of the matter because you’re not providing the opportunity for an athlete to fully rehabilitate and fully recover from an injury.”
Bottom line: If you suspect your athlete might need a brace, check with their athletic trainer or a medical professional. Further evaluation may be needed to rule out more serious problems that require additional treatment.
Finding the right brace
Going back to that aisle in a sporting goods store, there are thousands of braces on the market today, and they’re not all created equal. Choosing one at random will likely not benefit your athlete, and again, may cause more harm than good, so make sure you try before you buy. “It can be exceedingly difficult to find a brace that fits smaller, younger athletes,” says LaBotz. “The best brace is the one that fits you well, and makes you feel like you can move better and more comfortably when you try it on.” She recommends trying on braces with the athletic shoes (or cleats) you’ll be wearing while using the brace, since you want the brace to work seamlessly with that footwear. Some physical therapists and doctors may stock braces, and while many won’t have a wide range available, it’s still worth asking for their recommendations. (And check with your health insurance: Braces can be pricey, but some health insurance policies will cover them.)