Are you suffering from shoulder pain? If you’re looking for a non-invasive, easy-to-use treatment, shoulder braces for pain may provide just the relief you need.
What does it mean when your shoulder hurts?
The shoulder girdle is an incredibly complex collection of bones, muscles, and tendons that work together to allow us to lift, lower, and rotate our arms in their sockets.
It consists of three separate joints that provide the largest range of motion of any part of the body. These three joints are the glenohumeral joint, the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, and the sternoclavicular joint. All three joints move and are stabilized through the complex interworkings of:
- Bones: The three main bones of the shoulder are the clavicle (also known as the collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blades), and the humerus (upper arm bone).
- Muscles: The muscles of the rotator cuff are the suprasinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and subscapularis. These muscles hold the head of the humerus in the cavity of the scapula called the glenoid.
In and around the three joints are tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, all designed to stabilize and mobilize the shoulder to perform daily actions both large and small. Any injury or inflammation in any of these structures can lead to pain. A few causes of shoulder pain are most common though, including:
- Rotator cuff injuries and tears
- Frozen shoulder syndrome
- Referred pain from neck or upper back strain
Most types of shoulder pain are easily treated with non-invasive options like shoulder braces for pain, rest, and exercise. However, some require most focused care.
Rotator cuff injuries
Rotator cuff injuries, in particular, are one of the most common causes of pain. Whenever we raise up our children, carry groceries in from the car, or take a three-point shot, our rotator cuff comes into play. A rotator cuff injury can include tears or tendinitis, a condition in which the tendons of the rotator cuff become inflamed (also called impingement syndrome).
A rotator cuff injury occurs when the tendons incur a tear or a strain. This can be an actual separation of the tendons from the muscles, or it can be irritation or inflammation. Your injury can range from mild to severe. The main cause of rotator cuff injury is overuse or repetitive motion over a period of time. This can take many forms including:
- Jobs with heavy lifting
- A regular athletic practice that works or overworks the muscles of the shoulders
- Professional musicians such as cellists and violinists who are prone to rotator cuff injury in their bowing hands
- Suffering an injury to the shoulder, as in a car accident or in full-contact sports
- Age-related tendon degeneration
The large range of motion and involvement in daily tasks make injury to the rotator cuff very common. It may not be a dramatic movement that causes the injury, but the symptoms are similar regardless of how the injury occurs. They include:
- A dull ache that feels deep within the shoulder
- Difficulty sleeping on the side of the ache
- Decreased range of motion due to pain
- Weakness in the arm
- Radiating pain
All of these symptoms need not be present to receive a diagnosis, but they are the most common signs.
Am I at risk for shoulder pain?
Due to the location of the injury and the area’s involvement in daily life, it would seem that shoulder pain is inevitable. However, there are a few risk factors that make it more likely. These include:
- Age: Arthritis is often an age-related disease. In addition, rotator cuff injury also most commonly occurs in adults over age 40 due to degeneration of the tendons, cartilage, and ligaments.
- Activity level: Professional athletes or those who exercise in highly repetitive sports (e.g., tennis and baseball or softball) have an increased risk of shoulder injury. On the flip side, those who sit at desks all day with their head jutting forward and neck flexed may be at risk for mouse shoulder.
- Tradesmen: House painters and carpenters who work with their arms over their heads on a regular basis are more likely to experience shoulder issues.
Even if you’re at risk for shoulder pain, there are many treatments that can help. (And a bit of prevention, as we’ll discuss shortly, never hurts either.) One of the best ways to deal with a recent injury or chronic case of shoulder pain is with a brace.
Do shoulder braces help?
Depending on the cause of your pain, however, braces can help. They can provide the support and stability your shoulder needs to heal after an injury. For some injuries, it’s vital to use a brace so your injury doesn’t worsen or heal improperly.
A shoulder brace can help by:
- Compressing the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation
- Stabilizing the shoulder joint to allow injuries to heal more quickly and in the right position
- Keeping the shoulder elevated to improve blood flow and aid healing
- Allowing you to adjust the temperature of your brace for hot or cold therapy
- Correcting postural habits that are leading to pain
There are a few different types of braces, ranging from simple slings that keep the shoulder immobile to shoulder stabilizers that still allow you to exercise. Some people may also benefit from posture support devices that can help you prevent pain from incorrect posture.
Before using any brace, always talk to your doctor. Always. You only want to use a brace after they’ve diagnosed the source of your pain and have advised you to use a brace. If they haven’t, we discuss some other alternative treatments later on in this post. Some types of injuries, for example, require surgery.
What are the best shoulder braces for pain?
The best shoulder braces are those that work for your type of injury. For example, you may choose a brace that has more mobility if you’re suffering from a mild case of arthritis. Or, if your pain is due to a more severe injury, your doctor will probably recommend an immobilizing brace. Beyond finding the appropriate type of brace, there are a few other considerations to take into account: support, comfort, and discretion.
As Posturebly explains:
“The most important factor to consider when choosing a shoulder brace is supportability. For a shoulder brace to work properly, it needs to provide good support in the right places. That means well placed straps and a snug fit. The less your shoulder joint sags, the better. High quality materials are also a good indication of a well designed shoulder brace. Strong straps and sturdy slings will make a comfortable and durable shoulder brace.”
They also go onto note that comfort is another consideration. Finally, you should avoid braces that are too bulky or chafe, if you can. The best ones are discrete and can even hide under your clothes. With that in mind, here are some of the best shoulder braces for pain.
(Note: PainDoctor.com does not endorse, nor do we make any money off the sale of these products. This information is provided for the benefit of patients based on patient reviews. Braces should always be used after consultation with a patient’s doctor.)
Shoulder braces for dislocation or injury
If you’re suffering from an injury or are recovering after surgery, talk to your doctor about the best sling or brace to use. They’ll likely have very specific suggestions on what they’d like you to use and for how long.
Some of the highest-rated slings include the DonJoy UltraSling III and the Aircast Arm Immobilizer available at Better Braces.
This shoulder sling is often recommended for patients recovering from surgery or injuries, such as rotator cuff repairs, Bankart procedures, or strains. While it provides a great deal of support, it’s also easily-customizable and comfortable. Sizes range from small (up to 11″) to extra-large (above 15″).
The Aircast is a more affordable option for those recovering from more mild injuries. It provides a custom fit with back, shoulder, and under-arm straps. It can help with some types of fractures, injuries, or dislocations.
Shoulder stabilizing braces
Many patients suffering from mild arthritis or injuries may benefit from using a shoulder brace, especially during activity. Here are some of the best.
Vive universal shoulder brace
The Vive shoulder support brace is one of the easiest to use and most affordable, especially for those suffering from mild cases of pain. It’s made of 100% extra-strength neoprene that improves stability in the shoulder. Adjust compression as you need. You can buy it from their website or Amazon.
The EVS brace fits bodies of many sizes, with great support during exercise. It’s easy to slip on and off by yourself, and fits both left and right shoulders.
Shoulder braces for posture
If your shoulder pain is caused by neck pain due to postural issues, you could look into a brace for posture.
This posture brace is comfortable, easy to put on and take off, and helps prevent pain caused by bad posture. It also fits chests sizes 29″ to 40″.
What are my other treatment options?
If a shoulder brace for pain isn’t the best solution, there are other treatments for pain that can help.
Of all treatment options the best choice is very simple: prevention.
Even in its complexity, the shoulder girdle is designed to move freely and support the work (and play) of our lives. While degeneration of the joint as we age is inevitable, there are ways to help support the shoulder before a rotator cuff injury occurs. Daily strengthening and flexibility exercises for the muscles of the back can help support the work of the ligaments and tendons. Varying your physical routine to include activities that do not stress the shoulder is another way to prevent injury.
Finally, taking breaks during repetitive activities and icing your shoulder after long periods of work overhead can help keep inflammation at bay.
This is so is important, as more activity in the joint can cause further injury. Rest is usually indicated for a short period of time, as too much time off can result in thickening of tissue in the shoulder, leading to frozen shoulder.
After the initial period of rest, a physical therapist can help to restore safe movement in the shoulder through guided stretching and strengthening. This can also help increase range of motion.
Some over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen can help with swelling and pain. Your doctor may offer you a prescription for the initial stage of injury, but often minor tendinitis and tears can be treated safely with low doses of NSAIDS.
For pain that is not resolved with NSAIDS, your doctor may recommend steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling. These injections can result in weaker tendons in the shoulder and should not be used frequently. However, they can be a useful alternative to be done alongside physical therapy. In this way, you can reduce your pain at its source while reducing your pain during the strengthening exercises themselves.
Surgery is a much more invasive option and would only be considered when all other options were exercised, or if the location and severity of the injury indicated that surgery was the best choice. Surgeries for shoulder pain can include:
- Arthroscopic tendon repair
- Open tendon repair
- Bone spur removal
- Tendon transfer
- Shoulder replacement
Further, as Braceability notes, even if you’re suffering from a rotator cuff tear or similar injury, it may not mean surgery. There are a number of factors to consider:
“Rotator cuff tears may involve either operative or non-operative treatment. Surgery is often the last resort to repair the torn tendons, and the exact type of operation may depend on several factors, including the degree of tendon disruption, location of the tendon tear, and physical activity of the patient.”
If you’re suffering from shoulder pain, it’s important to talk to a doctor before your pain gets worse. And it’s always important to talk to them before trying one of these shoulder braces for pain. Fast and appropriate treatment can help you avoid pain in the future. If you haven’t already, you can find a pain specialist in your area by clicking the button below.