PSA: the fountain of youth has not been discovered (yet!) and the "tried and true" elbow brace still reigns supreme for tennis elbow pain.
Let me help you understand the pros and cons of the various brace styles and why everyone with tennis or golfers elbow should own the appropriate brace.
3 Reasons An Elbow Brace Should Be Your First Purchase For Tennis Elbow Pain (Even If You Don't Hurt Now!)
1) Promote and Facilitate Healing
Not all injuries happen in an athletic environment. Simple chores can irritate an injury and interrupt the healing process. Having a compression brace that is comfortable for long-term wear will induce blood flow and prevent day-to-day activity from setting you back.
2) Proactive Injury Prevention
At Vive Health we believe far too many health decision are made on a reactive basis. If you frequent the gym or courts it makes sense to consider an elbow support before the pain is severe. The best solution for an injury is to prevent it from happening in the first place!
3) Affordable Pricing
Financially speaking, no one likes visiting the doctor's office. And let me spoil the surprise... you will probably just leave with an overpriced brace anyway. Purchasing an elbow brace online can be as cheap as $14.99. It is really a zero risk option given most reputable retailers will back the brace with a long-term money-back guarantee.
Pros and Cons of The Most Common Elbow Brace Styles
Tennis Elbow Strap
The forearm compression strap is definitely the most commonly purchased style for tennis elbow. The strap is fully adjustable for a custom fit. The variable compression and sizing is super convenient given your arm has different levels of pain which require different amounts of pressure.
The brace applies pressure to the forearm for what is known as counter-force bracing. Counter-force bracing is meant to reduce the tension on the muscles as they attach to your elbow joint. If you are interested in more details on counter-force bracing check out additional research here which describes it in a ton of detail.
Notice the air pocket in the brace pictured above. The air pocket aligns with your forearm muscle to concentrate the pressure at the desired point. Some elbow strap designs use a plastic square instead of an air pocket, but we find that it is less comfortable. Please note that the tag you see is easily removable :)
The adjustable strap should go on the underside of the arm to allow the air pocket (can be an EVA or plastic pad in other models) is applying the most pressure on the forearm muscle.
- Does not limit elbow mobility making it great to wear while playing sports or routines in which you do not want to inhibit motions
- Customizable levels of compression
- Comfortable air pad cushion which will contour to the shape of your arm
- High quality velcro strap will not come undone during use
- Does not inhibit motion whatsoever so will not immobilize for more painful injuries
- No heat retention
Elbow Compression Sleeve
Elbow compression sleeves are probably the most versatile option available. Though there are a wide range of compression sleeves, most models will provide a nice balance of compression, support, heat retention and protection. They compression and heat retention induces blood flow which reduces elbow inflammation.
The support from compression sleeves is moderate to light depending on which material you choose. Common materials are nylon, bamboo and neoprene weave. The bamboo option is great for long term wear because it is extremely breathable and easy on the skin. If you plan to wear the sleeve throughout the day or night please be very careful what material you select
Above, we have the Vive bamboo compression sleeve. You can see in the bent elbow the material is providing resistance and support. It is also an extremely high quality material, very comfortable to the touch and breathes surprisingly well. The neutral color will allow you get away with wearing this in public and it is thin enough to go under a long sleeve shirt.
Sports compression material is much less supportive. If you do not have a severe injury or are well down the road to recovery a Tommie Copper style support is a great option. In my opinion the biggest advantage is keeping the muscles in your arm warm to prevent re-injury. They do provide MILD support as well.
- Great for long-term or overnight wear
- Very breathable material regulates temperature for comfort
- Best option for injury prevention
- Keeps muscles warm during workout or sports
- Only provides mild support
- Not adjustable, so make sure you purchase the proper size
- Need to make sure you understand which material of compression you are purchasing because they are not all the same
Adjustable Elbow Brace with Straps
There is no question this full elbow brace provides the most support of all the styles while only slightly hindering your range of motion. The brace has straps on the upper arm and forearm (in a similar position as the tennis elbow strap). Adjustable straps allow the brace to fit a wide range of arm sizes while providing customizable compression.
Breathable neoprene construction makes it a very comfortable wear. It also retains heat to increase circulation and reduce inflammation. If you have more serious tendonitis or tennis elbow this brace is a great option.
Notice how the brace extends from the middle bicep down to the upper forearm. When you tighten the straps significantly the brace inhibits abrupt motion and provides stabilization.
- The most support out of all the styles
- Customizable levels of compression
- Heat retention to reduce inflammation
- Comfortable material
- High quality velcro straps will not come un-done during use
- Does inhibit motion, so can make sports a bit more difficult
- Can become hot during long term wear
What is The Best Brace for Your Elbow?
This is always the most difficult question to answer because everyone is different. If I generalize everyone into 3 major buckets I can give my recommendation for each.