Definition and Overview
Orthopedic braces are medical devices designed to address musculoskeletal issues; they are used to properly align, correct the position, support, stabilize, and protect certain parts of the body (particularly the muscles, joints, and bones) as they heal from injury or trauma. These medical devices are often prescribed for the patient to wear during the process of recovery and rehabilitation.
Many specialized healthcare fields use orthopaedic braces, including those concerned with rehabilitating and preventing injuries, post-operative care, osteoarthritic care, and more. A qualified medical professional can determine what type of orthopaedic brace is ideal for the patient, as well as the fit, type of support, function, and level of stability or protection.
Orthopaedic devices fall under the medical specialty of orthotics, a field that involves the design, manufacture, and application of orthopaedic braces and other similar devices that are used outside the patient’s body to modify or improve the function and structure of the affected muscles and bones.
It is important to note, however, that orthopaedic braces should not be worn without the advice or recommendation of a doctor and an orthotist, who is a clinician responsible for prescribing, manufacturing, managing, and monitoring orthopaedic braces and other orthoses.
Orthopaedic braces can be used in various ways. They can be prescribed to stop limbs, specific segments of the body, or joints from moving for a pre-determined period. This can be very important in facilitating proper recovery and positioning as the affected body part heals. Braces are often recommended for restricting and assisting general movement, removing weight from healing or injured joints and muscles, and correcting the shape and function to reduce pain and facilitate improved mobility. Patients who have suffered from fractures or broken bones can also be prescribed orthopaedic braces to aid in musculoskeletal rehabilitation.
Orthopaedic braces are generally divided into two categories, depending on the location of its application: upper and lower limb. Braces on the upper limb can be applied to the shoulders, collarbones, the arms, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. Lower limb braces, on the other hand, can be fitted over the feet, ankles, knees, and legs. Braces can also be prescribed, designed, and manufactured to correct spinal position in patients with scoliosis (common designs are known as the Boston Brace, the Milwaukee Brace, and the Charleston Bending Brace).
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Patients are generally referred to an orthotist by their primary care physicians or general practitioners. Patients who have suffered from injuries, such as sprains, fractures, pulled muscles, dislocated joints, and broken bones can benefit from wearing orthopaedic braces.
Designing the orthopaedic braces depend highly on the function it will serve for the patient. Ankle braces are usually prescribed for immobilizing the joints in the area, and at the same time, providing compression force and heat to the bones within. This is commonly seen in patients who engage in sports, such as basketball, rugby, and soccer. It is important to consider the function of the orthopaedic braces in their prescription because it will dictate the form and the material that will be used in manufacturing the device.
Braces designed for immobilizing and compressing muscles and joints are often made from nylon and neoprene, and can be fastened tightly into place by Velcro straps. In more serious cases, the orthotist can use metal plates to hold the joint in place better.
Wrist braces are also common forms of orthopaedic braces. Like ankle braces, wrist braces are designed to immobilize the joints in the area, and provide heat and compression as it heals. These are often recommended for non-trauma injuries to the wrist, or as a form of support during the healing period. They can also be ideal for patients who have suffered from sprains and inflammations in the wrist area. Wrist braces can also be worn by athletes who often put a lot of strain on their wrists, such as weightlifters and bodybuilders.
Back or spinal braces, on the other hand, are designed to correct the posture and alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as scoliosis. They can also be instrumental in post-operative care after the patient has undergone a procedure for the spine, neighbouring structures, and soft tissues in the area.
After wearing these medical devices during the period prescribed by the doctor, the patient is expected to gain full function and mobility in the affected area.
How Is the Procedure Performed?
Procedures for orthopaedic braces all begin similarly. A primary care physician will refer the patient to an orthotist to have the proper braces fitted according to whatever is required by the patient’s treatment plan.
The orthotist and primary care physician will also recommend a specific period of time for the patient to wear the braces.
Possible Complications and Risks
Not following the doctor’s instructions or wearing orthopaedic braces without proper prescription can result to further injuries or risk to the patient.
Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2007.
Silverstein JA, Moeller JL, Hutchinson MR. Common issues in orthopedics. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 30.
Musculoskeletal disorders. In:Frontera, WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 1-88.