How to fit an Elbow brace and support? This is easy once you have all the information.Watch the short video below for an instructional demonstration of how to brace an elbow. The elbow joint is simplistic in its design and construction. Placed between the humerus of the upper arm and the radius and ulna bones of the lower arm, it allows the upper and lower limbs to move freely, providing a wide range of motion at weird angles so you can scratch that itch in the middle of your upper back.Skills Training College provides First Aid courses that teach you how to bandage limbs and joints correctly.
Elbow Brace Indication Guide: Do You Need One
Multiple conditions affect the elbow joint, soft tissue, tendons, and ligaments surrounding it. From nerve issues caused by partial or full paralysis from strokes to tendinitis from regular and repetitive motions causing strain, it is crucial to use the right support or elbow brace for you.
Acting as a link between the finer movements that control the tendons in your wrists and hands, and the broader, stronger muscles and ligaments in your shoulders, the elbow is essentially a cap that protects your tendons and muscles from damage and allows for a range of movements and motions.
If you have ever bumped your elbow and felt a sharp pain and then a pins and needles sensation, it is often referred to as “hitting your funny bone”. It is not funny for the person sporting the pain but is funny for others watching. It is also somewhat of a precise blow to a small area where the nerves are not protected, and hitting that area takes dumb luck or great skill.
Brief Anatomy Of The Elbow
The elbow is composed of 3 major players:
- Bones: There are three main bones that meet in your elbow; the humorous, radius and ulna. These bones perform two core functions. The first function is to provide skeletal strength and support your arm, allowing precise, controlled movements and the lifting and carrying of weights.The second, lesser function, is a barrier to prevent damage to the nerves and blood vessels that travel from your shoulder down to your digits.
- Tendons: These are flexible rope-like cords of connective tissue that join the muscle to the bone. Running along the inside and outside of your arm, tendons are used in every action involving the use of your hand and digits.
- Ligaments: Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that join bone to bone. Think of the gristle on your steak as it is the same for humans.
How To Brace Elbows
When it comes to injuries affecting the elbows, regardless of whether it is a strained muscle or torn tendon, ruptured ligament, fractured bone, or an issue affecting the nerves, wearing the right brace or support can make all the difference. The support you should select will depend on different factors:
- The condition affecting your elbow
- Any prior history of elbow damage
- Your general anatomy and bone density
- Your age
- Lifestyle practices, i.e., sports, gym, daily routine
- Issues or old injuries that might be affecting other parts of your arm
When choosing the right elbow brace, it is important to look at the short-term needs as well as the long-term recovery if an injury or fracture is the problem you are healing from. You need to consider functionality and how it works with your daily requirements and lifestyle patterns.
Elbow Brace Types
1. Elbow Sleeve
Elbow sleeves range in design, price, and material. They are typically made from neoprene, synthetic fabrics, or an elastic cotton polyester blend. Designed to fit around the elbow, they sometimes have inserts made of gel, silicon, or other materials and can be placed in the freezer or microwave to freeze or heat, allowing the sleeve to target the sore tendons in your arm to soothe and relax them.
The main purpose of an elbow sleeve is to provide firm, comfortable compression across the joint to minimise swelling and pain while providing mild stability to the joint itself. They are designed to allow the elbow to bend and move as normal. Elbow sleeves are the most suitable sleeve for daily use and are easily washed and cleaned for hygiene.
Primary Issues Elbow Sleeves Are Most Suitable For Treating
- Mild instability
- Mild nerve issues
- Mild to moderate elbow pain
- Mild to moderate arthritis
- Long-term post-op recovery from ligament and tendon damage
What To Look For In An Elbow Sleeve?
- Comfortable Anatomic Fit
A good sleeve should conform to the shape of the elbow and arm and stay flush against the skin with minimal bulging or loose parts through all movement ranges.
- Medical Grade Compression
The ideal compression level for an elbow sleeve is medical grade. This provides support to the whole joint while giving strength back to the elbow and arm.
- Sizing System
Generic sizing systems offer one size fits all and come in a small/medium/large format that may not provide the right fit, comfort, or desired therapeutic benefit sought. Seeking a quality medical-grade sleeve or brace will cost more in the short term but have far greater benefits over the longer term.
- Breathable cool material
Wearing the right sleeve all day can provide relief and pain management. However, some materials cause the sleeve to overheat. The skin below becomes sweaty and itchy, causing more problems than it solves. Opt for a sleeve that will be breathable.
2. Elbow Restrictor
Elbow restrictors are a brace designed to limit the movement of the elbow joint.
Restrictors can be a simple strap that reduces the degree of bend in the arm, a partial immobiliser that prevents hyperextension and dislocation, or a full immobilising brace that stops the elbow from moving by locking it into a set position. These braces are usually made from a combination of rigid and flexible components, often with some degree of adjustability built in.
Often used in post-operative recovery and managing recovery from more traumatic injuries, elbow restrictors can perform a wide range of functions for a limited period of time.
Elbow straps are relatively simple compared to the other types of supports available, made from a semi-flexible material which fastens around your forearm at the base of your elbow, usually with Velcro, but sometimes with a buckle or tension system.
The main purpose of an elbow strap is to relieve tension and pain in the tendons of the elbow, and it can most frequently be seen on people who play golf, tennis or ten-pin bowls.
Can You Sleep In An Elbow Sling?
The short answer is YES. You can sleep in a sling where it has been ordered by your surgeon or physician. The use of a sling for the first six weeks while sleeping is typically limited to people who have undergone recent shoulder surgery or have fractures that require constant support and immobility.
Using a pillow or two can provide a more comfortable position when sleeping. The video below will take you through a short video by Penn Medicine that walks you through some techniques for sitting and sleeping with a sling in place.
Further Reading Material
This is the fourth article of six on How To Give Emergency First Aid.