To Brace or not to Brace

The decision to strap or brace an injured joint is one that can result in optimal healing OR ongoing pain.
Ashleigh Flanagan
September 4, 2021

The decision to strap or brace an injured joint is a clinically important one that can result in optimal healing OR ongoing pain, delayed healing and secondary compensations. As my clients know, I do tape and occasionally recommend braces. I even tape myself- But it is a decision that I weigh up carefully.

Why a physio wouldn't recommend taping or bracing

For most injuries, taping or bracing is not indicated and can cause a delay in healing as it stops the tissue from being loaded optimally. All tissue needs load to heal, and the sooner we can normalise the load, the sooner you can be back to it.

Taping and bracing also stops muscles around the injury from working as usual. As a result, they can become weak, which means longer to recover and increased potential for injury in the future.

Don't be under the false impression that tape can stabilise an injured joint. Research shows that sports taping can only provide a minimal stabilising effect for a short time ( up to 15 min). Bracing may be able to stabilise a joint, but will cause abnormal loading through other joints that may lead to injury and weaken the joint and tissues in the long term.

When might a physio recommend taping or bracing?

In acute, pain dominant presentations, I may use tape for a very short time to help settle unhappy tissue down a little bit. Think of it as like the comfort of a warm hug. It does help you feel better, which is important, but it doesn't change much.

It may also be appropriate to lightly tape to increase the loading potential of the joint in the short term as part of a graduated loading program. If a little tape means that you can tolerate doing more of your rehabilitation sooner, that's great.

Lastly, bracing may be appropriate if you cannot actively rehabilitate and you have to do something that is aggravating and puts the tissue at risk.

A lot of the time, the most significant benefit of taping is placebo. I am not against anything if it results in a positive outcome, but taping and bracing can also have a nocebo effect. If you feel like you can't do as much without the taping or bracing, this will negatively impact your healing potential.

Get an expert opinion on whether you should be taping to train: Book a physio appointment

Learn more about how to manage tendon overload injuries: Read the Blog

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