man wearing a Mueller Graduated Compression Arm Sleeve while playing basketball

How to Handle Skin Care and Prevent Itching When Wearing a Brace

Millions of people today wear a brace for one reason or another, all the time or for specific activities. Athletes wear sports braces for support or while recovering from a recent injury. Many professionals wear a brace to prevent injury while they’re doing physical labor at work. Many more wear braces while recovering from surgery or to support a joint that will always be misaligned or not strong enough for daily life.

All this brace-wearing may involve a wide variety of brace types. There are sleeve braces and wrap braces, soft braces, rigid braces, hinged braces, and immobilizing braces. There are braces for the wrist, back, knee, or ankle. But there is one thing that everyone who wears a brace shares as a common concern: Skincare.

No matter what kind of brace you wear, skin has a universal response to being warmed and confined over a long period of time. Eventually, you will find yourself fighting the urge to scratch. Itching underneath a brace can happen for many reasons ranging from chafing to heat rash to existing skin conditions. And to help you keep that brace on when you need it (and not scratch yourself silly), we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help prevent, reduce, and treat itching related to wearing a medical brace or sports brace.

Prepare Your Brace to Prevent Chafing

Start by taking a close look at your brace. You can prepare a brace so that it is less likely to cause chafing, heat rash, and so on. Look for braces without seams, or with flat minimal seams to reduce the potential for irritation. If there’s an internal tag that could touch your skin, carefully cut it out, making sure that the cut edge also won’t touch your skin. Look closely at the brace to ensure that you understand which direction any velcro components or buckles should face to prevent fasteners from accidentally touching or irritating your skin.

Fit Your Brace Correctly, Every Time

Wearing an ill-fitting brace is one of the leading causes of chafing and discomfort. The next preventative step is to ensure that your brace fits snugly the way it was meant to fit. Spend some time understanding your brace and walk yourself through putting it on so you’re sure everything fits how it is supposed to.

If you’re not sure how your brace is supposed to fit, including how tight it’s supposed to be, consult with your doctor. If you discover that your brace is too large or small for your needs, search out a brace that fits you better and don’t be afraid to consult with a brace expert to find the right fit.

Become practiced at putting on your brace so that you get the fit right every single time, even when you’re in a hurry or distracted.

Don’t Secure Too Tightly

Be careful not to over-tighten your brace. You may be inclined to pull the straps as tight as they go and this can even feel good at first. But an over-tightened brace is not only bad for your joint, it’s also bad for your skin. If the sides of the brace pull together too tightly, this can wrench your skin and cause chafing. Overly tightening your brace can also cut off your circulation over time, which will be experienced first as tingling, then a throbbing numbness and can eventually damage the limb if left too tight for too long.

If your skin can’t breathe because the brace is too tight, you can also bring on a heat rash or a sweat rash, which will appear and feel much like a rash and make wearing your brace more uncomfortably itchy in the future.

The proper tightness of your brace will depend on how much security and support you need, without cutting off the circulation. Consult with your doctor if you’re not sure how tightly to secure your brace to remain safe and comfortable.

Wear Soft Cotton Between Your Brace and Skin

For many braces, the material of the brace is not necessarily absorbent or breathable, but cotton is. A layer of soft natural cotton between your skin and the brace can reduce chafing and the risk of forming a heat/sweat rash at the same time. For knee braces, and sometimes wrists or ankles, you may be able to find cotton sleeves designed to go underneath a brace or cast.

However, if you can’t find a cotton sleeve of the right type or size, you can use a 100% cotton handkerchief or even cut up an old t-shirt to exactly the shape and size you need.

The cotton layer will help to absorb and wick sweat if your brace material does not, and is a soft barrier between the seams, edges, and fasteners that can cause chafing.

Keep Your Skin both Moisturized and Dry

It’s important to keep your skin healthy underneath a brace or you’ll be more susceptible to chafing and heat rash alike. To do this, you’ll need to make sure the skin underneath the brace is clean, moisturized and dry before you put on the brace for the day.

Be sure to remove the brace when you bathe or, if this isn’t an option, take special care to sit, remove the brace, and wash the skin underneath on a regular basis. Apply non-greasy lotion to keep your skin moisturized so that it doesn’t become dry and chafe beneath the brace. But before you put the brace on, make sure the surface of your skin is fully dry.

This combination is vital to make sure your skin stays healthy underneath the brace and reduce the chances of discomfort. Clean, moisturized, and dry skin will be the most comfortable underneath a brace.

Test Yourself for Material Allergies

If you’re experiencing a rash that is not a heat rash or sweat rash, it might be an allergic reaction. You may be allergic to some of the materials used to make the specific brace you’re wearing. There are polyester, latex, or neoprene allergies, or an allergy to a less common material that might be setting off a skin reaction.

There are a few different ways to test this theory. If the brace isn’t directional, try wearing the brace on your other knee/wrist/ankle for an hour. If a rash results, you may be allergic.

If the brace is directional, test it on another patch of skin by, say, resting your leg or arm on it for an hour. And if you do turn out to be allergic to the brace, either use a cotton sleeve to prevent skin contact or find a new brace made of something you’re not allergic to.

Apply Powder to Prevent Heat and Sweat Rash

Some people experience more sweat or trapped heat than others while wearing a brace. This could be the material and design of the brace or something your skin is more prone to do.

If you are experiencing excessive sweating and a moist sweat rash or heat rash, many people have found that this can be alleviated with a gentle layer of powder. Apply either talcum powder or baby powder, which are similar, to your skin or the inside of the brace before wearing to help both suppress sweat and create a soft absorbing layer between your skin and the brace material. Others have found relief with lubricant like Vaseline instead, but this will depend on your needs and the type of brace you’re using.

Keep Your Brace Clean

When you wear a brace on a regular basis, it can be easy to forget that this is basically a piece of clothing and needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. A brace that has been absorbing your sweat for a while may become stiff and more likely to cause chafing. If you use powder or lubricant, your brace will need to be washed clean of these things each time you wear it.

Some braces can be thrown in the washing machine, but most will likely need to be wiped clean or treated more like furniture upholstery. Wipe your brace clean and sanitize it at least once a week in whatever way is recommended by the brace manufacturer. If you’re not sure, hand-wash your brace in the sink with gentle detergent and hang it to dry. If you do this often, consider getting a second brace and switching out while the most recently cleaned brace dries. Here’s a post that gets more into detail on how to clean your sports brace.

Treat Any Chafing or Rash Immediately

All of these suggestions have been to prevent discomfort in the first place. However, if you have experienced any kind of chafing, rash, or other skin discomforts while wearing your brace, it’s important to treat the symptoms as well as the cause.

If you develop a rash, try airing out the brace-covered area and treating it with lotion and baby powder while it recovers. If the rash persists, see your doctor to make sure it’s not a lasting allergic reaction or to get more specific medicine to encourage recovery.

If you experience chafing, add a cotton layer to your brace and treat your skin with a combination of ointment and lotion until the chafing heals.

Wearing a brace for athletic or medical reasons is an incredibly common solution to a wide variety of physical concerns. Whether you’re training hard for a marathon, recovering from an injury, or making it through a labor-intensive work day, braces are a necessary part of modern life. And so is healthy skin care while wearing your brace. Follow these tips to keep your skin healthy around and under your brace for as long as the brace is worn. For more insights on finding the right brace for your needs, taking care of yourself wearing a brace, or taking good care of your sports braces, contact us today!