a man wearing a tennis elbow brace

Do Tennis Elbow Braces Work?

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Tennis elbow tends to be one of those really annoying injuries, causing way more pain and limitations than expected.  

You never realize how much you use your elbows and forearms until there’s pain waiting to greet you at every motion. 

It also tends to linger because it’s extremely hard to modify your activity when you need to use your hands. 

A tennis elbow brace sounds like an easy fix to decrease pain and go about your day, but are they effective, and how much should you be using them?

For a deeper dive into chronic tennis elbow explaining lots of hidden causes that can keep you in pain, be sure to read Surprising Reasons Why Your Tennis Elbow Isn’t Getting Better

WHAT IS TENNIS ELBOW?

Tennis elbow, aka lateral epicondylitis, is the most common overuse syndrome of the elbow.

Inflammation and micro-tears can occur in the tendon of the wrist extensors, which run along the forearm and attach to the bone just above the outer elbow.

Tennis elbow frequently causes pain with repetitive motion using forearm muscles such as typing, working with tools, knitting, gardening, and gripping.

Scar tissue may build up over time with chronic inflammation.

image of tennis elbow anatomy
image source: depositphotos.com

ARE TENNIS ELBOW BRACES EFFECTIVE?

Some types of braces for tennis elbow can help if used appropriately. 

Some of the most popular braces are counterforce braces, compression sleeves, and wrist braces

A counterforce brace looks like a strap with a foam or gel pad that is meant to supply external force to the wrist extensor tendons. This force decreases the stress on the tendon and can help reduce constant aggravation. 

Sadeghi-Demneh E & Jafarian F found that counterforce braces were the most effective in decreasing pain compared to other types of braces.  

Kroslak M & Murrell G found that clinical studies demonstrated mixed results. Their review found some studies showing a benefit of bracing, while others showed no difference.

Jafarian F et al. studied three types of elbow braces (a counterforce brace, a sleeve + counterforce strap, and a wrist brace) and their effect on grip strength. The study found that both braces with a counterforce strap positively impacted pain and grip strength. However, there was no change in either with the wrist brace. 

A plain compression sleeve without a counterforce strap or a wrist immobilizer brace is unlikely to help tennis elbow pain. 

While a wrist splint may help with acute pain and inflammation, prolonged use of wrist immobilizers can cause problems, especially if you continue to perform aggravating activities such as typing. This essentially forces the muscles to work in an unnatural limited range of motion.

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SHOULD YOU WEAR A TENNIS ELBOW BRACE ALL THE TIME?

In general, you should avoid wearing braces all the time (unless you’ve been specifically instructed to do so). 

Braces often lead to a false sense of security, tricking you into continuing with the same habits that got you tennis elbow in the first place.

It’s important not to adopt a “set it and forget it” attitude with a brace.

Simply wearing a brace will not fix tennis elbow and it’s not doing much for the overall healing process.

Sure the pain might be less, but it will quickly return once you start moving again.

R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is still circulating widely as a treatment for injuries. While this still may be appropriate in very acute phases, simply resting tendonitis injuries won’t get you better. 

R.I.C.E. isn’t necessarily bad, it just kind of drops you and doesn’t give you any direction to actually get better. 

Activity modification and progressive loading of the injured tendon are critical components of getting better fast.

Conservative physical therapy treatments include eccentric exercises, manual therapy, muscle or fascia scraping, and mobility/strengthening exercises for the upper extremity and thoracic spine. 

If you’re not able to get to traditional physical therapy treatment right now, you can give a PT-guided home treatment program a try. 

With physical therapist James Luccock’s home program, you can learn to fix your elbow from the comfort of your own home.

This guided at-home program uses a combination of self-assessment, videos to demonstrate treatment techniques and exercises, and easy-to-follow exercise handouts you can download.

Head over to Fixmyelbow.com to learn how you can get started right away with this program.

WRAPPING UP

An elbow brace can be a helpful tool in your rehabilitation but shouldn’t be a lifelong commitment. 

Braces are not meant to hold you together while you continue the same bad habits. 

It’s important to get problems addressed to heal your injury instead of putting a band-aid on. 

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References

Kroslak, Martin & Murrell, George. (2007). Tennis Elbow Counterforce Bracing. Techniques in Shoulder & Elbow Surgery. 8. 75-79. 10.1097/BTE.0b013e318047c176. 

Jafarian FS, Demneh ES, Tyson SF. The immediate effect of orthotic management on grip strength of patients with lateral epicondylosis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009 Jun;39(6):484-9. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2009.2988. PMID: 19487823.

Sadeghi-Demneh E, Jafarian F. The immediate effects of orthoses on pain in people with lateral epicondylalgia. Pain Res Treat. 2013;2013:353597. doi:10.1155/2013/353597

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3 thoughts on “Do Tennis Elbow Braces Work?”

  1. It’s so smart to keep your eye on the fact that braces may help with the pain, they aren’t addressing the root cause of the issue, or helping your body to heal. Don’t get me wrong, eliminating pain is great, but you need to take an active approach to heal your body, and to modify what activities led you to develop it in the first place.

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