Sunday, October 13, 2013
Joint Mobility & Stability: To Brace or Not To Brace
In all aspects of physical activity there is the risk of injury. There are many methods of treatment for injuries, from icing to stem to ultra sound. A common practice when treating injured joints is to brace the joint. The function of the brace is to act as an artificial muscle and stabilize the joint. This method can be very beneficial when dealing with an injured stability joint, such as the knee or elbow, because it relieves stress and allows the joint time to heal. However, this method can be detrimental when dealing with a mobility joint such as the wrist or ankle. As you may or may not know, the body’s joints form a chain of mobile and stable joints, one following the other as demonstrated in the illustration below.
When a mobile joint, which is designed to have a wide range of motion, is stabilized by a brace and that range of motion is decreased, it forces the next joint down the chain to compensate for that missing range of motion and the stress is transferred to the next joint. When1a mobile ankle is stabilized by a brace it forces the stable knee to mobilize in order to compensate, greatly increasing the risk of injuring the knee.
A common mistake made by general practitioners, sport coaches, and athletic trainers is to brace a joint too quickly instead of strengthening the area. If a brace must be used, for instance if an athlete is in their competitive season and has no time for full recovery, the athlete should be removed from the brace as soon as the season finishes and the joint should be strengthened. All too often braces become a lifelong companion for individuals because they never properly recover from their injury and strengthen the injured joint; their brace makes them feel comfortable and confident all the while stabilizing the joint and maintaining its weakness.2
1. Gray Cook, Athletic Body in Balance.
2. Eric Cressey, Magnificent Mobility.