First and foremost, it depends on the injury sustained (and severity) and what your intended purpose of the brace is (do you just want the pain to stop or do you want to protect it when active?).
But first, let’s look at wrist injuries in general.
As with the majority of injuries we are all likely to suffer from a wrist injury at some stage, whether following a trip or fall (as we use our hands to break our fall) or through repetitive strain complaints (playing the guitar etc).
Different grades of sprains
Sprains can be categorised into 3 different levels depending on their severity.
A grade 1 sprain occurs where the wrist is stretched beyond its normal range of motion i.e. when it suddenly moves too far in one direction and it hurts. This stretches the ligaments and can create small tears. The long and short is that it can be quite painful and you may see a bit of swelling but this should only last a few days and then you’re back on it. This may however create a weakness in the joint so working on strength exercises might be a recommended route.
A grade 2 sprain is a little more serious and can result in tears to the ligament, resulting in instability i.e. your wrist may give in when carrying something. This will leave you with a slightly longer period of recovery, typically a few weeks.
A grade 3 sprain is where there is a complete rupture of tear of a ligament resulting in complete instability, pain and inflammation. It’s not the best outcome (let’s be honest) and can require surgery to remedy along with a couple of months to fully recover from.
There are loads of ligaments within the wrist but the scapho-lunate ligament (located between the scaphoid bone and the lunate bone) is the one which is affected the most.
When you fall on your hand / wrist the force of the impact has to go somewhere and will travel up the arm to the weakest point breaking either the ulna, radius or in most cases for adults, both of them. Despite these bones technically being in the forearm they are still commonly referred to as a broken wrist as the break is typically close to the wrist joint.
Those suffering from a broken wrist will normally end up in a cast for around 6 weeks before embarking on a period of physiotherapy to regain strength in the joint.
Managing the condition
What you have to realise with wrist injuries is that sometimes they just happen and there is nothing you can do about it. What is important is how you manage your recovery so you can get back to full fitness as fast as possible and reduce the risk of it happening again, so let’s take a look at rehab.
RICE gets mentioned time and time again and no it’s not the thing you eat but an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Rest is pretty self-explanatory. Give the body time to heal naturally and it will sort itself out.
Ice is soothing and works to manage inflammation, which is normally the source of the pain. Just don’t apply the ice directly to the skin and put it in a tea towel first otherwise you can add ice burns to your list of ailments.
Compression normally comes from using a wrist support but works to manage inflammation which, like ice, can also offer pain relieving qualities.
Finally, elevation is as simple as lifting your wrist above the level of your heart so that the blood flow is reduced which can help to lessen swelling.
Once you’ve fully recovered there will still be an inherent weakness in the joint and this is where physiotherapy comes into play to help you strengthen the joint with some specific exercises. By working on strength and conditioning you can minimise the risk of the injury rearing its ugly head again. If you’re recovering a broken wrist then you’ll need to work on your range of motion as 6 weeks in a cast will leave your wrist quite stiff.
Wrist supports can be categorised by the level of support they offer:
Low: Where you are looking to manage a mild sprain where the primary focus is compression to help manage the inflammation. You then have the option to either immobilise the thumb or not depending on the injury / preference.
Medium: If there is any instability in the joint then this is what you should be looking for. This, in conjunction with compression, can allow you to remain active following injury.
High: For the highest level of support offering both compression and restricted range of motion to offer protection and minimise the risk of further injury.
Now let’s take a look at some of the most common wrist injuries and the type of braces you might wish to take a look at to help as part of your rehabilitation. If you’re unsure then you should always speak with a medical professional as there are loads of braces out there and they all do different things, so you need to make sure you select the one which is designed to manage your specific injury in order to get the best results.
Braces for sprains and strains
As discussed, the brace you need will depend on the severity of the sprain itself.
For a mild (grade 1) sprain then you don’t need the same type of brace you would need if you are recovering from a broken wrist. You should be looking for something which offers compression, something along the lines of the Simpla™ Wrist Support.
There are not that many braces for a grade 2 sprain so it’s normally a case of looking at those which cater for grade 3 sprains, so you’re over covered. Here you have something like the Form Fit® Wrist Support to offer compression and immobilisation.
Braces for carpal tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when there is pressure exerted on the nerves within the carpal tunnel which affect movement of the wrist joint. There are exercises which can help to manage the condition and in serious cases surgery might also be required but a wrist support may help to offer additional stability.
There are plenty of braces on the market which count carpal tunnel as one of the conditions they are designed to treat, however there are also braces which are designed specifically to manage this condition.
Braces for a sprained thumb (skiers thumb)
If you want to be technical then skiers thumb is clinically referred to as an Ulnar Collateral Ligament injury located on the metacarpo-phalangeal joint or in layman’s terms, when your thumb hurts and swells.
For something like this then you don’t need a wrist support and just a thumb support (spica), since this is the only area which requires immobilisation. There are plenty of options on the market but given the condition you just need something simple like the Elastic Thumb Spica.
The same type of thumb spica can also be used for those suffering from a bennett’s fracture (dislocation of the thumb).
Braces for wrist osteoarthritis
Wrist osteoarthritis is one of the most commons forms of the condition behind the knee and hip and like these, the condition is degenerative and without measures to slow it down will get progressively worse. With knee and hips there are specific braces to help manage the condition but with the wrist you are looking at generic braces which focus on immobilisation as by limiting movement you’re reducing bone on bone contact within the joint and reducing the levels of pain experienced by the sufferer (through compression).
Braces for broken arms
As highlighted, a broken wrist will normally result in your wrist being placed in a cast for around 6 weeks to allow time for the bone(s) to heal. After this you’ll probably need a wrist support to offer additional protection whilst you are working on your physiotherapy to help with strength and range of motion.
What you’re looking for in a brace is something to offer a high level of support so that you are well protected against potential injury. Some of the braces that have already been mentioned would once again be suitable here, with the Form Fit wrist support, whether you opt for the standard or thumb spica version (depending on how much support you need).
Is the brace everything I need?
The short answer is no.
It is important to note that your treatment should never focus solely on one area, so whilst a wrist support can be extremely beneficial in your recovery it should never be considered the definitive approach and used in isolation.
For the best results you should consider looking at a combination of all of treatment options where you can focus on physiotherapy to rebuild strength in the joint, resting afterwards to ensure you don’t overdo it and wearing a wrist support inbetween sessions to offer protection and even extend the life of your physiotherapy with the brace offering a therapeutic stretch.
If you are unsure as to which path to choose then speak with a medical professional for guidance as failure to manage an injury now could lead to further complications down the line.
Hopefully this guide will have helped you understand the thought process behind selecting the best support for your wrist injury.