The complex shoulder joint is one that can be prone to injury. And if you’re an athlete or someone with a history of shoulder problems, you might already be familiar with the dreaded beginnings of shoulder pain. In many cases, a shoulder brace can help offer stability and relieve pain as you wait for treatment or as you’re healing. But is a shoulder brace right for you?
What Can Shoulder Braces Treat?
Though most shoulder injuries are treated with more than just a brace, high-quality braces play a role in the rehabilitation of many different shoulder injuries and conditions. But before we jump into the different types of braces, let’s take a look at some of the conditions braces can help treat.
- Rotator cuff injuries – The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles and tendons that connect to the shoulder joint. It can become irritated and injured with repetitive motion of the shoulder, especially if you perform overhead motions frequently. Though you can cause major rotator cuff problems with a single motion, these injuries usually start slowly and worsen over time. If you experience a dull ache around the shoulder joint, a brace can help you relieve some of the joint stress and prevent the injury from worsening.
- Bursitis – Bursitis refers to painful inflammation of the bursa, the fluid-filled sac that cushions the shoulder joint. Typically, it’s an overuse injury that heals with rest. A brace can help minimize joint stress as you heal.
- Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is a specific type of arthritis that targets the joints and causes them to break down. With this condition, cartilage wears down until joint motion involves bones rubbing together. During particularly painful osteoarthritis flares, shoulder braces can help minimize bone-on-bone contact.
- Dislocation – This happens if the shoulder joint comes out of its socket. Though you should get medical attention as soon as possible if you think you’ve dislocated your shoulder, you may find that wearing a brace afterward helps relieve some of the pain around the joint.
- Tendinitis – This is a painful condition involving inflammation of the tendons in your shoulder. It usually occurs over time in people who play sports or work jobs that require them to frequently move their shoulders. However, tendinitis can also be caused by sudden trauma to the shoulder joint.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This is a different type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints. That inflammation often causes pain and stiffness. In some cases, a shoulder brace may help reduce pain and make physical activity more comfortable.
- Shoulder instability – While shoulder instability is not an injury on its own, it can lead to injuries if left untreated. You may find that your shoulder joint is unstable if you’ve developed muscle atrophy over the years or if you just need to build up more muscle strength. Using a brace can support the joint and reduce your risk of injury as you work to build up the muscle around the joint itself.
- Frozen shoulder – Frozen shoulder is a painful condition where adhesions build up and limit shoulder motion. Treatment will sometimes involve manipulating the joint, and that may temporarily make it more painful. Using a brace can help reduce some of the discomfort as the condition is treated.
- Cartilage tear – This injury is different from a rotator cuff tear — it involves tearing the ring of rubbery cartilage around the shoulder joint itself. This type of injury can drastically destabilize the joint, making it a good idea to use a brace to limit motion until the cartilage has a chance to heal.
Shoulder Brace Types: Which is Right For You?
If you have one of the above shoulder issues, you might find that a shoulder brace will better help you manage it. To help give you an idea of the wide range of available shoulder braces, here are some of the more common types:
Many shoulder braces have been designed to help promote healing while still allowing you to play the sports you love. These braces offer comfort and support to the musculature around the joint and allow you to move with reduced stress. They are ideal for relatively minor injuries that don’t require you to fully stop all physical activity, and they may sometimes be used as a part of a physical therapy program.
The Care-Med OmoTrain S is a brace designed for active rehabilitation. While it offers support to the shoulder joint, it does not restrict movement. In fact, it’s designed to activate the muscles around the joint to help them develop and offer further support. The OmoTrain S even includes a massage pad, an attachment that massages the area around the injury to help stimulate blood flow.
Compression-style shoulder braces are generally not as tight or restrictive as other types. This makes them ideal for stabilizing and treating developing injuries before they become severe. Usually, these braces are designed a lot like a compression sleeve for the shoulder and upper arm. But a compression sleeve alone typically wouldn’t stay put, so braces like this one typically have a strap or two to keep them in place.
These shoulder braces usually allow too much movement to be reliably used after surgery or for severe injuries. However, they can be a great help if you’ve recently started experiencing rotator cuff pain or if you suffer from arthritis. They also can be helpful for joint irritation following an injury. In some cases, athletes prone to shoulder injuries may wear compression-style braces as a precaution.
Care-Med’s lightweight OmoTrain shoulder brace is a quality compression-style shoulder brace. The knitted shoulder support’s graduated compression improves blood flow while offering more stability to the joint. A contoured silicone insert offers further support. A soft strap helps hold it in place.
If you’ve recently undergone surgery or have dislocated a shoulder, your doctor will likely recommend that you keep the joint as stable as possible. Many shoulder braces are designed to offer some support while keeping you mobile. But a full stabilization brace will help keep your shoulder joint as still as possible while reducing pressure on the joint.
The Care-Med OmoLoc is an excellent example of a fully stabilized brace, but it doesn’t actually include any material around your shoulder. Rather, it has an abdominal strap that goes around your torso, right over your hipbones. It also has three arm loops — one right above the elbow, one right below, and one at the wrist. The arm loops connect to the abdominal strap, holding your elbow at about a 90 degree angle and keeping your arm close to your body. This position minimizes shoulder rotation and even stops the weight of your lower arm from stressing the joint.
Full-stabilization shoulder braces like the OmoLoc are great for when you need to keep your shoulder joint as immobile as possible. However, most patients find that they need an intermediate brace between a full stabilizer and a soft, movement-friendly compression brace. That’s where shoulder braces for partial stabilization come in.
These braces typically fix the elbow joint at a set, adjustable angle. They also typically attach the arm to an abdominal strap to stop the weight of the arm from irritating the shoulder joint. Since they can be adjusted to allow for some level of movement, these braces are a good choice for those who are healing from surgery or serious injuries and just beginning physical therapy.
Care-Med offers the SecuTec Omo, a partial-stabilization brace that allows a bit of freedom of movement without overstressing the joint itself. Like most stabilizing braces, it has an abdominal strap that the affected arm can attach to. The bent, splinted arm attaches to the strap via a joint splint. The exact angle can be adjusted and the joint splint can be detached as needed.
As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to shoulder braces. To make sure that you find the correct one to help restore your shoulder joint to full functionality, it’s always good to consult with your doctor or physical therapist. But by incorporating a brace into your rehabilitation program, you just might find that you start feeling better faster.