On any given day, a few hundred thousand people fit a brace over an aching joint or a bad back before heading off to work. Perhaps they’re recovering from an injury or taking care of a trick joint that often needs a little extra support. Some are living with arthritis, some are too active to avoid the occasional injury. But the one thing all these people have in common is the need to wear a brace comfortably at work.
This is a task easier said than done. The right sports brace can make your work easier and less dangerous. But they do fit snugly and can cause circulation or skin concerns when a brace must be worn day after day. The good news is that in the centuries of people wearing braces, we’ve worked out more than a few tricks to make the wearing more comfortable and beneficial for long-term use.
If you need to wear a brace to work or school day after day, check out these tips to help increase your comfort and the benefit you gain from the brace as an injury recovery asset or a source of daily joint support.
1. Choose Your Brace Carefully
The first step is to choose the right brace. The right brace for work might not be the same ‘right brace’ for pure recovery. You want to consider several factors for a brace that is comfortable or even possible to work in. You need a brace that allows the necessary range of motion for your work while also providing the necessary support for your joint. Padding and comfort are a must, but can’t sacrifice breathability for your skin.
Support and Range of Motion
Consider the activities you need to do in the brace and the motions you must make to do them. For example, a rigid wrist brace can help with carpal tunnel, but a compression wrist brace can help while also allowing you to type at work. For long-term use and late recovery stages in particular, you will likely want to prioritize a softer brace that allows for greater motion while providing the needed support.
Padding and Comfort
Never skimp on the padding. Whether you add your own padding layer or choose a padded brace, the fewer rigid surfaces rubbing against your skin, the better. Padding also ensures greater long-term comfort as you are less likely to become sore from rigid support.
Breathability ensures that your braced body part doesn’t become a swamp of sweat. When the skin is trapped in non-breathing material, you’re at risk of a rash. Prioritize breathability for skin health, comfort, and general sweat control.
2. Start with Clean, Dry Skin Without Lotion
Now let’s talk about putting on the brace. The next few tips will relate to how you apply your brace during your pre-work morning routine. First things first, start with clean, dry skin. If you need to lotion your skin, do it at night when you can spend a little time safely out of the brace on your bed or couch. In the morning, dry off completely after your shower before putting on the brace. This ensures that there is minimal moisture trapped between the brace and skin, and that the brace sits comfortably on your skin without sticking.
3. Wear Cotton Fabric Between Your Skin and the Brace
Another good skin care tip is to ensure there’s a thin, soft layer of cotton between the brace and your skin. Cotton absorbs and wicks moisture which can keep your skin in better condition when you do sweat a little. We all sweat in a brace no matter how comfortable the brace might be simply because of the necessary confinement.
For back-braces, where a soft cotton t-shirt under the brace. Make sure there are no side-seams to dig into your skin and that the shirt does not fold under the brace. For ankle braces, we suggest a smooth cotton dress sock, as terrycloth inside of sports socks can dig into the skin.
For a wrist brace, a simple cotton handkerchief folded into the brace is a great way to wick moisture and provide some protection from friction and rigid edges. Elbow braces can be worn with a long-sleeve t-shirt underneath and knee braces can be worn by ladies with soft leggings. Otherwise, there are also cotton knee and elbow sleeves for the purpose or you can use a large cotton handkerchief.
4. Wear Loose Clothing Over the Brace
If you don’t want the brace to become a visible part of your outfit, you can then wear loose-fitting clothing over the brace in addition to the cotton below. Straight-leg or boot-cut pants can go over a knee or ankle brace smoothly so that the lines of your outfit are not shaped by the brace. Wrist and elbow braces can be covered by loose long sleeves, and women can wear sleeves that drop below the wrist for full coverage of a wrist brace if desired.
A loose or even unbuttoned dress shirt can cover a back brace, as can a loose tunic and an a-line dress that falls below the bust. Even if you need to look business-casual or formal while wearing a brace, it can be done with loose fashionable clothing. Or you can just throw on a hoodie if your workplace dress code is quite casual.
5. Judge Tightness with the Two-Finger Fitting Method
When securing your brace, don’t pull it as tight as you feel it should be. This is usually too tight and will quickly become uncomfortable and/or cut off your circulation. The most reliable way to safely secure your brace so that it is supportive without being too tight is the two-finger fitting method.
The two-finger method is simple: your brace is the right tightness if you can slip two (of your) fingers under the straps, but not three fingers. If you can only fit one, it’s too tight. Use your own fingers, as this relates to your body’s size relative to itself and your blood pressure.
6. Take Off the Brace for Air Twice a Day
In most cases, you won’t want to wear your brace 100% of the time you are at work. 8+ hours can be too long, and most doctors will recommend that you only wear the brace consecutively a few hours at a time. This means you will want to take off your brace at least twice during the work day to air out the brace and massage the skin.
Every work routine is different, so choose two or three times during the day when it’s safe for you to take off the brace and hold still. Maybe these will be your work and meal breaks. But it could also be a time when you are safely at your desk reading instead of typing. Or sitting in a meeting with friends who won’t mind if you spend the physical down-time with your brace on the table. Or riding as a passenger with a coworker driving, if you work in the field.
Just be sure to air out your brace and your joint a few times a day. It’s also smart to switch out your cotton cloth, sleeve, or shirt for a dry one when you put the brace back on.
7. Watch Out for Pressure Areas
When you take the brace off, check your body for pressure spots. These are hot, itchy, or sore areas where the brace is pressing too hard or rubbing an area raw. You might recognize the problem from an experience wearing new shoes that don’t fit quite right. Pressure areas can be dangerous because they can make it more painful to wear a brace even when you need to. Catch pressure areas early and make adjustments to eliminate them. Change how you secure the brace, the padding or cloth you’re using, or you might have to change braces entirely.
8. Experiment with Different Braces
It’s always okay to try out a different brace. You may even find that having a small selection of braces is handy for different tasks. You may need the safety of rigidity for one task, and flexibility for dextrous work in another task. Changing out braces can reduce the chances of developing pressure areas and they provide various types of support given your needs.
You may find that a brace you try is slightly the wrong shape or size for your body, and that’s normal as well. Try out several braces and types of brace, especially if you’ll be wearing a brace regularly in the long-term and would benefit from ideal fit and function.
9. Ask for Help When You Need It
If you need help putting on or taking off your brace, just ask. Most people don’t mind helping with a quick velcro strap or buckle. Particularly if they know that you’ll be a friendlier and more effective coworker when your brace is right. While it’s best to be fully independent with your self-care routines like managing a brace, it’s better to ask for help than to wear a poor-fitting brace or to leave your brace on all day because it’s challenging to take off.
10. Keep Your Brace Clean and Lint-Free
Sports braces worn every day can get pretty dingy. Don’t forget to keep your brace clean. If it’s washable, run it through the wash. If not, hand-wash the brace and lay it out to dry about once a week. A clean brace is even more important when you wear it at work because it contributes to your appearance of being well-put-together.
One trick that brace-wearing pros learn is the lint roller. If your brace or your brace’s velcro becomes too linty, a quick lint roll can get your velcro back up to snuff and reduce the scruffy appearance of a well-used brace.
11. Maintain a Positive and Function-Forward Attitude
Last but not least, keep your attitude sunny. Yes, it sounds cheesy. But if you want to wear a brace comfortably while you work, attitude really matters. If you focus on the sensation of the brace, you’ll notice every rub and the pressure may start to bother you. So keep yourself busy, distracted, and positive. Once you get used to the brace, you can forget it’s even there. Which is, ultimately, the goal of a comfortably designed and properly worn sports brace.
Here at Meuller Sports Medicine, we care about helping each customer find the brace they need. If you’re wearing your sports brace to work every day, we understand that your needs go beyond flexible vs rigid. You need a sleek or concealable brace that is easy to work with, take care of, and allows you to do your job without pain or risk of injury. Let us help. Contact us today to consult on the right brace for your at-work needs.