Sports injuries can be slow to heal and prone to reoccurring when you return to sport, so many people choose to use muscle and joint supports to protect their vulnerable areas. There are many types of support to protect different areas in different ways.
What types of support are available?
Tubular support bandages
These come in a variety of sizes and provide flexible support for sprained joints and strained muscles. Made of elasticated cotton, they provide even support over a wide area. They can be used as the ‘C’ part of the PRICE method for treating minor injuries (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).
These offer support for injured ankles, knees, wrists or elbows. They're available in a variety of sizes and fabrics including neoprene, the same material used in wetsuits, which adds extra compression.
Some joint supports are adjustable, using straps or laces. Most adjustable supports are for general joint support, but some are designed for specific conditions, such as epicondylitis – tennis or golf elbow – which is where the elbow tendons are inflamed, often due to repetitive movements.
These provide a higher level of protection and joint stability than regular supports. Hinged supports are available for ankle, knee, wrist and elbow joints. Some are designed to be used for complete ligament ruptures and others for milder ligament damage.
A hinged brace is most commonly used on knee joints after a ligament injury. Ligaments are tough pieces of connective tissue that support our joints. The hinged brace provides greater stability, takes weight off injured ligaments and limits motion to a safe range. This range is often set by a Doctor, physiotherapist or your surgeon if your injury requires surgery.
If you think you might need a hinged brace, you should talk to your Doctor or a sports injury specialist to determine whether one would benefit you and, if so, which you should choose.
Sports strapping/kinesiology tape
Sports strapping or kinesiology tape may help to support joints during sporting activities. It's usually fairly lightweight to avoid restricting range of movement but rigid tape can be used to stop too much movement (especially for ankles, knees and shoulders) – it all depends on your injury. Kinesiology tape is generally stretchier and less supportive than sports strapping.
It can be used to protect existing injuries as they heal, or to help prevent further injury. You shouldn't return to your previous levels of activity until an injury is fully healed, and should remain cautious even when reintroducing gentle exercise.
Some shoulder overuse injuries such as bursitis, which can be triggered by sports like swimming, can require immobilisation in order to heal properly. A shoulder sling can be used in these cases.
What support should I use?
Light support, such as a tubular support bandage, can be used as the ‘Protection' and ‘Compression' parts of the PRICE approach to injury treatment (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).
For minor injuries, light support might also be used upon a return to sporting action, as even when they're fully healed, injured areas are more susceptible to further damage. This is because injuries create scar tissue, which is less flexible than healthy tissue.
For more serious injuries like ligament ruptures, heavier support like a hinged brace might be recommended by your doctor, especially for load-bearing joints like the ankle or knee. You should see your doctor for injuries like this, as they’ll be able to advise you on a support or refer you to a specialist.
Some sports injuries, meanwhile, can be protected with support bandages or sports strapping. Be careful not to apply strapping too tightly as this can cause swelling and interfere with your circulation.
If you're in doubt about which product to use, talk to your pharmacist. If the pain is ongoing or you're experiencing severe pain, visit your Doctor.
• Take a break from sport while you allow your body to heal
• Visit your Doctor for ongoing or severe pain. Consider seeking advice from a physiotherapist or sports injury specialist to support your recovery – your Doctor may be able to refer you
• Support healed injuries when you start playing sport again, and consider a light support for everyday – your doctor or specialist may recommend firmer support for certain injuries