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COLUMN: Bracing for elbow news

Vernon physiotherapist Cheryl Witter looks at elbow braces and if they really work
Do elbow braces actually work? Vernon physiotherapist and Morning Star columnist Cheryl Witter (left) can help answer that question. (Contributed)




To Brace or not To Brace – that is the question!

Elbow braces. Do they even work? Physiotherapists get asked this question all the time. Often an elbow brace is suggested for golfers, tennis or pickleball players. They usually only work if the elbow diagnosis is correct. The injury must be a true tendonitis of the flexor or extensor tendons of the elbow which is usually caused from overuse.

If you have pain when you grip things, feel like you have no strength and have a very tender point an inch or so past the bony part of the outer elbow read on. An elbow brace, plus some physiotherapy treatment, may be just what you need.

So what does the elbow brace actually do? If worn correctly, the concept is that it compresses the muscle belly so you can’t exert as much force. Therefore less tension and strain is applied to the microtears in the tendon part of the muscle. Less pain occurs, healing can be attempted and you should be able to perform your sport or activity.

It should be noted here that we are talking about an elbow “brace,” not a “sleeve.”

Here are some bracing tips :

How to wear an elbow brace

An elbow brace may sound like it should be worn on your elbow. But it should actually be worn on your forearm, just below your elbow.Try to locate the big muscle in your forearm, and place the padded part of the brace over that muscle. An inch of skin should show between your elbow crease and the brace. Then, tighten the brace until it’s comfortably snug.

How long to wear an elbow brace

Elbow braces should be worn only during activities that create pain or require repetitive motions to the hand and wrist. An important thing to note is you can also have this injury from shovelling, raking or using a hammer for prolonged periods. The elbow brace isn’t just for sports. It’s for any activity where there is excessive and prolonged hand gripping.

Should I wear an elbow brace at night?

You should only wear one during activities that are painful, uncomfortable, or repetitive. Elbow braces should not be worn to sleep or at rest.

How tight should an elbow brace be?

Elbow braces should be tight — but not too tight. It should be applied with the appropriate amount of tension to allow the pressure to dissipate any soreness, but not so tight that it affects circulation. It can be tricky and take a few attempts to find the right amount of tension.

Elbow tendinitis can be a very frustrating injury. Just when you think it’s better, it returns. It’s a puzzle physiotherapists solve all the time. Sometimes it’s truly a tendonitis, but it can also be a nerve issue stemming from the neck/shoulder complex or an elbow biomechanical joint dysfunction.

Once the reason for your sore elbow has been decided, tailored treatment begins. This can involve many things such as : elbow joint mobilizations, transverse friction massage, acupuncture, dry needling, fascial release, Active Release ( ART ), eccentric strength exercises, neck/shoulder treatment, re-sizing of grips for racquets/clubs, technique modification and good ol’ icing.

Rest is a treatment also, but a very unpopular word with most people with elbow pain. Let’s say “pacing” instead.

There are ways to “pace” under a physiotherapist’s guidance. Managing elbow pain is not a “one size fits all” situation. Bracing is just a small part of the treatment plan. But it can be a game changer for you! Our job is to keep you moving and having fun. If that means a brace is needed? That’s OK! PLAY ON!

Cheryl Witter is a Vernon physiotherapist and the owner of Spine and Sports North End Physical Therapy and Massage Therapy

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Cheryl Witter