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The big question - should I brace or rest post injury?

It is something we don’t like to think about but in reality we will all at some stage incur an injury, from an innocuous knock or strain to perhaps something more serious such as ligament damage or a breaking a bone.

On the minor injury front the NHS diagnoses over 1.5 million ankle sprains every year and that doesn’t even consider those who self-diagnose so this figure is probably much higher. On the other end of the spectrum knee ligament damage is less common by comparison but is something which can rule a person out of action for several months, with 40% of all ACL injuries attributed to extreme sports. The NHS reports that the risk of injuring the affected knee further increased by 1% for every month between when the injury occurred and having surgery (though surgery is not always the sole option to consider i.e. bracing / physiotherapy).

I’ve injured myself…what next?

Knowledge is power. If you know what the problem is then you can figure out how to fix it and that is the same for most problems in life.

From an injury perspective that means diagnosis. Following an injury you will typically be pointed towards the RICE principles in rest, ice, compression and elevation for the first few days. Advice thereafter is pretty much see a professional should there be no signs of improvement as further analysis on the root cause of the problem is required.

Obviously, if you suffer an injury which is noticeably severe i.e. a broken bone, then you should seek medical attention in the first instance to ensure that the best treatment option can be undertaken straight away.

The RICE principles are designed to manage the injury in the first instance and reduce the risk of further damage being caused. Rest is important as it allows the body time to heal and repair itself. Ice helps to manage inflammation which can also offer pain relief. Compression also works to manage inflammation and offer pain relief and typically applied through the use of a sports brace, which in turn can help you return to some form of mobility faster. Elevation refers to lifting the affected area of the body above the level of the heart which works to reduce swelling.

There is often a debate as to which route is followed post injury and the differences between applying ice and heat to an injury. Typically ice is used for the management of injuries whilst heat is used for managing muscles, chronic pain and stress.

What is a sports brace?

The primary purpose of a sports brace is in enhancing mobility, getting you back to action following an injury whilst minimising the risk of you doing something more serious. There is always a debate as to what level of immobilisation should be applied to an injury and this links in with the debate as to whether an individual should rest or brace.

They can be worn in a variety of situations. Some wear them when mobile, whether that is around the home or walking to the shops. Some are worn specifically when partaking in sport i.e. running, tennis etc and these types of braces reside at the performance bracing end of the market.

Which sports brace do I need?

The honest answer is…it depends. It depends on the type of injury you have suffered. The severity of your injury. Your treatment programme and recommendations from medical professionals. What you want to achieve from bracing (walking or running).

It is impossible to say that a certain brace will do the job without being able to answer the above questions and if in doubt, seek a medical diagnosis before making a purchase as in order to get the benefits associated with a brace you need to buy the right one.

An ankle brace is not just an ankle brace. There are some designed to immobilise the joint, others to offer compression, some which are slim line and others less so and some which are to be worn at night for specific conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

Once you have been diagnosed check that the brace you are looking at is designed to manage your condition and read the description as the last thing you want is to think you are protected when you’re not which can lead to you causing further damage.

Sport is big business and in the professional arena the top athletes don’t want to miss a competition. This has given greater visibility to sports bracing and taping, with many a famous sportsperson donning an ankle brace (Andy Murray) or applying multi-coloured tape. We discussed this back in December in a blog post entitled “which is more effective…taping or bracing?” which offers a little bit more information on the benefits of each and which one you may wish to consider.

The benefits of using a sports brace?

If we consider an ankle injury then many professionals believe that “safe” mobilisation can be beneficial for the patient and can promote faster healing of the ligaments and bones because the loads applied to the injured area can be controlled. An example would be the use of a Form Fit Ankle Support (with straps) whereby the movement of the subtalar joint can be controlled in order to prevent the extreme inversion of the joint which caused the problem in the first instance.

Following an injury you may seek physiotherapy whereby they work on exercises to help strengthen the affected region which is essential in the long run. The main issue however is that outside of this session you are on your own, so many prescribe a brace to offer additional support, with the brace offering a therapeutic stretch which can extend the value of the physiotherapy beyond the one to one session.

In a nutshell sports braces can offer immobilisation, compression or stability or a combination of all three (stability and compression are offered following ligament damage for maximum support).

Should I just rest following an injury?

Close up of ice being applied to a sprained ankle showing bruisingAs discussed, rest forms part of the initial injury response recommended by medical professionals. Rest is the best treatment for any injury in allowing the body the time to heal naturally, whether that is a sprain or surgery. You also know your body best and what it is capable of doing and typically an injury is just its way of telling you that you went too far and need to take it easy.

Does this mean that we should just rest in isolation? The answer is…it depends. If you’ve broken your leg then remaining mobile is not in your best interests but if you’ve suffered a sprain or ligament damage then maybe it is. As with the RICE therapy we are advised to seek a combination of treatments to ascertain the greatest response and whilst rest is something we need to consider the healing process can be amplified by combining other techniques.

Rest is certainly important in the initial stages post injury as it is ill-advised to carry on with a pain as this could cause more serious injury but resting long term could cause more harm than good as you lose your fitness and have to start all over again once the injury has healed.

What are my next steps?

The first thing you need to do is to obtain a diagnosis, without which you will be unable to determine the best treatment programme. If you ever have any questions about your condition then you should speak with your doctor or physiotherapist.

An important thing to be aware of is in knowing your limits and listening to your body. A grade 1 ankle sprain could become a grade 2 or 3 without treatment, with grade 3 ruptures typically requiring surgical intervention and several months off your feet compared to a grade 1 which should see you back in action from within a few days to a week.

In terms of your treatment we are not suggesting that you should just get up and run through the pain (as this could cause more damage) but remaining mobile (safely) can help strengthen the joint and keep you fit in the process. It is this mobility where the use of a sports brace can come into play by offering a degree of protection which can minimise the risk of further damage being caused.

As with anything in life there is never a one fit solution for all and therefore a combination of various techniques can sometimes offer the best solution. If you consider sport, a professional football focuses on a variety of skills, from on field training to classroom analysis to being the gym.