The 10 Best Shoulder Braces
A Shoulder On Ice
I almost made it to thirty-years-old before ever breaking a bone.
I tore two of the three major tendons in my shoulder about 85% each, just tempered enough not to require surgery.
I almost made it to thirty-years-old before ever breaking a bone. I wasn't careful; I was lucky. I did, over the course of all that time, encounter my fair share of sprains. I sprained my ankles about a dozen times, my wrists here and there, my knees once in a while, and my elbows quite a bit, as well.
The worst sprain I endured was a shoulder sprain. I've been an ice hockey player since I was four, and that's a sport that comes with a lot of injuries. I'd had a little rivalry going with a guy in one of my recreational leagues, and he decided – rather than drop the gloves and fight me (which is totally legal in hockey, by the way) – that he would do the dirtiest thing you can do to another player: he hit me from behind.
My shoulder and my neck crashed into the junction of the boards and the ice with the full weight of my body at about 20 mph. I tore two of the three major tendons in my shoulder about 85% each, just tempered enough not to require surgery. That saved me a big medical expense, bit the recovery without surgical intervention ended up being much longer.
I was laid up with instructions to keep my shoulder in a brace for the better part of two months, and the braces I tried worked more or less the same as any other I'd used on previous injuries.
A brace works primarily as an immobilizer. Torn muscle and tendon tissues will heal much faster if you don't subject them to a lot of use, so having a little help to keep things still can mean the difference between a six week recovery and a six month recovery.
What's more pressing is that re-injury during the healing process can build up masses of scar tissue that might put pressure on nearby nerves or prevent you from ever regaining full mobility in the joint. A good brace will prevent this by fixing your injured shoulder to a healthy position for a given injury, and, in some cases, by aiding the healing process by compression, cooling, or even magnetic resonance.
Depending On the Tendon
There are a lot of ways you might injure your shoulder, and fitting a corresponding brace to your injury is the first step in determining which of the braces on this list will be the most helpful in your healing. The more advanced braces on our list have enough adjustment options that you could use them to target almost any shoulder injury, but some of our options are a bit more specific in their design.
They are ideal for shoulder injuries related to your posture, or injuries to the anterior portion of your coracoacromial ligament.
Take, for example, shoulder braces that use the offset shoulder as a leverage point for bracing. These appear to symmetrically stretch across the back and wrap around both shoulders at the same time. They are ideal for shoulder injuries related to your posture, or injuries to the anterior portion of your coracoacromial ligament.
In the case of my hockey injury above, I tore into the posterior section of my coracoacromial ligament as well as my supraspinatus tendon. The symmetrical leverage braces wouldn't necessarily have hurt my healing process, as they still would have partially immobilized the joint, but there was a risk that if the ligament repaired itself in a compressed position (like the one such a brace would have created), I might have lost some forward mobility.
Instead, I turned to the types of braces that elicit in their users the sense that they've become bionic. They strap below the opposite shoulder, and are immensely adjustable, so you can find a comfortable position in which to immobilize your injured shoulder that will promote the most thorough healing.
Some braces offer additional treatment variables, like cooling systems or magnets. After a certain point in the healing process, cooling is no longer necessary, so this kind of feature is only really useful for people with chronic shoulder problems who require frequent immobilization and relief for pain and swelling.
Immobilized For Millennia
Ancient Egyptian tombs and burial sites tell fascinating stories about the medical histories of their inhabitants. You can see once-broken bones that must surely have been set to achieve such a clean healing, as well as some pieces of ancient splints in the tombs with them. This evidence dates back to roughly 2465 BCE, and clearly shows how deeply an understanding of immobilization went with ancient man.
Almost 1,000 years later, a papyrus text was written by an unknown Egyptian medical scholar.
Almost 1,000 years later, a papyrus text was written by an unknown Egyptian medical scholar. The scroll, dubbed the Edwin Smith Papyrus after the famous Egyptologist, Edwin Smith, details several medical procedures from the top of the head on down, with occasional reference to the importance of immobilization.
Later, in a painting found in another Egyptian tomb dated to 1300 BCE, we clearly see a technique illustrated toward the reduction of a dislocated shoulder. Presumably ignorant of this painting, Swiss physician Emil Theodore Kocher would present a similar technique to the medical world some 3,200 years later.
While we have undeniably come extremely far in a great many fields of medicine, and as computer technology has mapped out our healing processes to excruciating detail, it's humbling to take a look at human medical knowledge from nearly 5,000 years ago and see the same tried and true techniques we practice today.