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One technique to help treat arthritis pain and improve functioning is to do joint immobilization using splints or brace. This article outlines tips to protect joints using joint immobilization.

Arthritis, a condition that characterized is joint inflammation, swelling and pain, can significantly impact patients’ quality of life. While there is no cure for the disease, there are several treatments that help reduce pain and other symptoms. One of the methods of treatment is immobilizing the joint, which can help ease joint pain and swelling.

This can be done through the use of devices such as braces and splints. Therefore, patients with arthritis who experience flares (a period of time during which the disease activity heightens), are often prescribed braces and splints to help treat a weak or inflamed joint. These allow for a relief of pain. Often doctors will also prescribe splints and braces to align bones, such as those of the fingers, back to their original location.

How does joint immobilization work?

The devices that allow for joint immobilization, such as braces and splints, work by providing support to the joints when they are in use and then allowing them to rest when you are not active, such as when you are sleeping or sitting.

Additionally, braces and splints can be used for patients who experience contracture (shortening) of muscles and tendons, as that can lead to joints becoming rigid and deformed. Wearing a splint or a brace, particularly when you are resting or at night, can help put the joint into a neutral position.

So how effective is joint immobolization?

Research has shown that splints and braces can be quite effective, especially when it comes to reducing pain and improving grip strength in patients with arthritis. However, research has not shown any conclusive evidence regarding whether braces or grip strength help function or dexterity.

When should you use joint immobilization?

It is important to talk to your doctor and discuss the possibility of using a brace or a splint at some point. The goal of treatment is to keep you functioning independently and without a splint for as long as you can. This is because it is important for you to use your own strength and not using splints or brace, as using these devices can be very cumbersome. On the other hand, you should try to not injure your joints any more than they already are. Thus, talk to your doctor before you make any decisions regarding splints or braces.

What are the risks of having braces or splints?

One of the major risks with the use of braces or splints is that patients can come to depend on them all the time. Ideally, patients should only use them for the activities that are otherwise to carry out. Therefore, the doctor will often recommend that you only use the splint part time and when you are using the particular arthritic joint.

What happens when you start to rely on the splint or the brace and use it too much is that your muscle will atrophy (deteriorate) from not enough use. It is important to have strong muscles as strong muscles actually improve functioning of the joint, as is the best defense against pain.

There are also other risks associated with using braces or splint. If the brace or splint is not used in the right manner, then it can actually further injure the joint. Additionally, if these devices are not fitted correctly then that could give you a skin ulcer. Finally, if the braces are heavy then you naturally end up using the other side of the body more. In this case, a cane helps provide the correct balance.

Therefore, doctors recommend that you can use the braces or splint as long as you follow an exercise program which works your range of motion, flexibility, and strengthening. You should also be conducting cardio at the same time. If you find that you need to wear it every day, then you will be put on a specific on-off program that ensures that your joints and muscles are able to move properly and do so regularly. This also gives your skin time to breathe, avoid pressure and irritation.

Doctors recommend that you only use braces and splint consistently if you have a chronic weakness or a deformity. An example of a deformity that could justify constant use of the brace or splint is a foot drop, which is a neurological disease in which you always need to use brace or splints to walk safely.

How do I use a brace or splint safely?

If you only need the brace or splint for light use, then you can just go to a drugstore and buy a one-size-fits-all brace or splint off the shelf. However, if you need a brace or splint for more heavy duty use, then you need to go to a physical therapist or occupational therapist that can fit and fabricate splints for you. These well-fitted splints can make all the difference when it comes to being comfortable and having a functional splint.

Some people may need to get especially fitted by an orthotist, which is a type of specialist that designs and makes medical devices. You should consult with your doctor regarding the use of splints or braces and he or she may be able to direct you to an orthotist in the region.

  • Partridge, R. E. H., and J. J. R. Duthie. "Controlled trial of the effect of complete immobilization of the joints in rheumatoid arthritis." Annals of the rheumatic diseases 22.2 (1963): 91.
  • Smith-Petersen, M. N., OTTO E. AUFRANC, and CARROLL B. LARSON. "Useful surgical procedures for rheumatoid arthritis involving joints of the upper extremity." Archives of Surgery 46.5 (1943): 764-770.
  • Harris, R., and E. P. Copp. "Immobilization of the knee joint in rheumatoid arthritis." Annals of the rheumatic diseases 21.4 (1962): 353.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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