Dunbar Medical sells a variety of products designed to treat sports injuries and other similar conditions. These include (but are not limited to) orthopedic braces, athletic tape and kinesio tape. We explain below how these devices can be used by athletes or by those experiencing injuries associated with occupational or recreational activity to expedite recovery or to prevent injury altogether.
Orthopedic braces are designed to immobilize or, at least, reduce the movement of injured areas of the body and in some cases also provide high levels of compression to further aid the healing process. By reducing the extent to which specific muscles or ligaments are able to move relative to each other, a well designed orthopedic brace can be effective in reducing pain as well as speeding the healing process and reducing the risk of injury recurrence.
In some cases orthopedic braces may also be used to reduce the risk of injury e.g. ankle braces may be worn by athletes who have never experienced ankle injuries in order to provide additional support to the joint during activity.
In evaluating the performance of an orthopedic brace, there are a number of factors to be taken into account:
- The material of which the brace is made and the extent to which it is designed to minimize the risk of allergic reaction while being worn.
- The amount of compression provided. In general, higher levels of compression improve the performance of the brace, but may adversely affect patient compliance due to the higher levels of discomfort.
- The “breathability” of the brace, which is the extent to which the skin under it can breathe while it is being worn.
- Whether the brace stays in position while being worn and (especially) during periods of physical activity. A brace that remains in the required position will be more successful in immobilizing or restricting the range of motion of injured body parts in the manner intended.
- Whether the brace permits natural body temperature regulation while being worn.
Orthopedic braces are primarily designed to work on five areas of the body – the knee, ankle, wrist, elbow and back.
The knee is probably the most common area where orthopedic braces may be worn. There is a wide variety of knee brace designs that are intended to treat a range of potential knee conditions. The range of conditions that may be treated by a knee brace includes general knee pain, patellar tracking problems, jumper’s knee and many others.
As with the other types of braces, ankle braces immobilize or restrict the movement of the ankle joint thus permitting it to heal more quickly than would otherwise be the case. As mentioned earlier, ankle braces can also be used prophylactically in sports that subject the ankle to stress e.g. rugby, basketball or football.
As with other types of braces, orthopedic back braces are designed to restrict the movement of a specific part of the body in order to prevent injury or increase the speed of recovery from injury. Back braces limit the movement of the spine in order to combat progressive conditions (e.g. scoliosis).
Back Braces may also be used to support the spine and therefore prevent injury under certain conditions such as the lifting of heavy loads.
Elbow braces fall into two broad categories – elbow straps and elbow sleeves.
An elbow strap is usually wrapped around the forearm just below the elbow and is designed to apply compression to the upper forearm. Additionally, it will absorb the forces transmitted through the elbow by external shocks, thus reducing the tendon pain normally associated with tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.
An elbow sleeve is normally more expensive than an elbow strap and will provide compression and warmth to the elbow to further reduce the pain of golfer’s or tennis elbow. In some cases, the elbow sleeve will include a strap that functions in the same way as described above for the elbow strap. The sleeve will also provide support to the entire elbow area and so can be recommended to treat a wider range of conditions than tennis or golfer’s elbow, both of which are variations of a condition known as epicondylitis.
Wrist braces are used to immobilize the wrist and may also provide heat and compression to the bones and ligaments in that area. In some cases, wrist braces may also have an extension that provides support to the thumb.
As with the other types of brace, wrist braces can be used in either a rehabilitative or preventative context.
Common indications for wrist braces are wrist sprains, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. A wrist brace that includes thumb support may also be indicated for conditions such as gamekeeper’s thumb or De Quervains syndrome.
Athletic tape is applied directly to the skin in order to maintain a stable relative position of bones and muscles during athletic activity. Maintaining muscles and/or bones in their correct relative positions reduces pain and aids recovery. Athletic tape is usually used to treat overuse or repetitive stress injuries.
In addition to its use to treat already injured body parts, athletic tape can be used to proactively reduce the risk of injury, especially in contact sports where there is a high risk of injury through collision with other players or with the ground. Even if injuries do occur, athletic tape is effective in reducing their severity.
In general, athletic tape offers a similar benefit to the use of an orthopedic brace or wrap, but with less chance of altering muscular activity.
Athletic tape can sometimes be used in combination with orthopedic braces to provide additional stabilization to the affected area.
When evaluating an athletic tape product, it is important to consider the following:
- Number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch. Known as the “warp” and “woof”, respectively, these can range from 120 to as many as 150 per square inch. The higher counts provide superior overall performance including greater tensile strength, more powerful adhesion and easier removal. It is also longer lasting albeit more expensive.
- Composition – bleached, unbleached cotton, synthetic fibres or a blend.
- Tensile strength
- “Breathability” i.e. the extent to which the skin can breathe through the tape.
Kinesio tape is an athletic tape that is thin and highly elastic with the ability to stretch up to 140% of its original length. As a result of this elasticity, if the tape is applied to the skin while being stretched, it will recoil after application and create a pulling force on the skin. This increases the space below the sin and facilitates blood flow and circulation of lymphatic fluids.
Kinesio tape is latex free and has an acrylic adhesive that is heat activated. Its cotton fibres allow for quicker drying which in turn makes it possible to wear the tape for up to 4 days at a time.
In general, Kinesio tape is applied in three shapes. An “I” shape is used for small or linear places, while a “Y” shape is used for somewhat larger muscles. For the largest and longest muscle groups in the body, kinesio tape will be applied in an “X: shaped pattern.