Tennis Elbow Braces vs. Compression Sleeves
A Side-by-Side Comparison
Despite their perceived similarities, tennis elbow braces and compression sleeves function differently and offer varying benefits.
Depending on your injury or discomfort, one is likely to be more appropriate, so it’s beneficial to understand the nuance between the two so you can select the best for your needs.
This article will provide an overview of tennis elbow, review braces and compression sleeves individually, and then discuss how they differ. We’ll also touch on whether or not tennis players should combine them.
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About Tennis Elbow
Before diving deep into the differences between tennis elbow braces and compression sleeves, let’s level set on definitions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a painful condition that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.”
Although common among tennis players, the condition isn’t exclusive to the sport. Virtually any repetitive activity that uses the hands, wrist, and arm can cause people to develop painful symptoms.
Beyond tennis, additional examples of people that might be at risk include seamstress, chefs, baristas, hairstylists, and electricians.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) suggests that common symptoms might include:
- Pain or burning on the outer part of your elbow
- Weak grip strength
Sometimes, pain at night
Of course, tennis elbow isn’t the only condition that can cause pain or a burning sensation in your arm. If conservative treatments such as rest and ice don’t provide much relief, you should see a doctor.
A proper diagnosis can help ensure you have the necessary support, save you money from buying unnecessary products, and confirm you’re tackling the problem with the best possible treatment.
Tennis Elbow Braces
A tennis elbow brace, otherwise known as a counterforce brace, is one of the most common devices for reducing discomfort, especially while engaging in the repetitive activity causing issues, such as tennis.
According to an article on the US National Library of Medicine, “an elbow band (strap) is a common device which is worn below the elbow. It applies a binding force over the wrist extensor muscle mass at their proximal origin (this is also known as a counterforce orthosis). It has been substantiated, that such a band can reduce the percentage of the elongation and force generation made by musculotendinous fibers above the orthosis.”
In other words, a tennis elbow brace applies constant pressure to the muscles and tendons of your arm to reduce pain and discomfort.
One of the benefits of tennis elbow braces is that they offer targeted support without covering your elbow, which helps ensure proper range of motion, which is particularly important for tennis players.
Additionally, the level of force applied by the brace can be easily adjusted by the individual using the device, which is beneficial to achieve optimal comfort and support for a wide range of individuals.
Finally, even the best tennis elbow braces are relatively inexpensive and easy to experiment with to determine if they offer any benefit.
Unfortunately, some players struggle with keeping tennis elbow braces snuggly in place, resulting in frustration and lower efficacy as accurate placement ensures optional results.
On a related note, many people have difficulty determining how to properly wear a tennis elbow brace as it can be tricky to find the ideal placement necessary for relief.
Another downside to tennis elbow braces is that they’re usually only a few inches in width. As a result, they only cover a small portion of your arm and may lack adequate support for some individuals.
Finally, it’s generally not recommended that people wear tennis elbow braces for extended periods. Instead, their best suited for use during activities that cause discomfort.
Compression sleeves are specialized garments that cover a targeted area of an individual’s body, such as an arm, leg, hand, or chest, to apply pressure, which helps increase blood circulation.
For athletes, there is a range of practical benefits. Here are some of the most common reasons they’re worn.
- Enhanced performance
- Injury prevention
- Temperature regulation and warmth
- Skin protection
- Muscle and joint recovery
- Added support
- Relieve tension and pressure
However, beyond athletics, compression sleeves have applications for treating or preventing lymphedema by helping move lymph fluid that builds up and causes swelling or discomfort.
One of the most significant advantages of compression sleeves is their multifaceted benefits, especially for tennis elbow.
From increased blood circulation to added support and relieving tension and pressure, there is a range of benefits tennis players may experience.
Although they apply pressure, their flexible material allows for adequate range of motion, which is crucial for optional performance on the court.
They’re also cover a more significant portion of a player’s arm and are relatively easy to position.
Finally, they’re suitable to wear for lengthy periods, especially when compared to tennis elbow braces.
For some, compression sleeves can be uncomfortable, and although they don’t heavily restrict movement, individuals may find them cumbersome.
Furthermore, some people may find them challenging to put on and take off because the garments are tight to apply pressure.
Another downside, especially in warm conditions, is that they can provide excessive heat that becomes uncomfortable.
Lastly, it can be tricky for some individuals to track down the right size, especially when they find themselves between sizes.
Braces vs. Sleeves
Although there is some crossover between tennis elbow braces and sleeves, they’re more different than many people realize.
Here are a few of the areas where you can expect a distinction.
Tennis elbow braces, otherwise known as counterforce braces, apply targeted pressure to an individual’s arm just below the area of discomfort.
On the other hand, compression sleeves apply gentle all-over pressure to the area covered by the sleeve.
Furthermore, while you can adjust the force or pressure a tennis elbow brace applies, a sleeve’s pressure is not adjustable.
One of the benefits of compression sleeves is that they stimulate blood circulation, which may help aid recovery and healing.
Tennis elbow braces, on the other hand, do not improve blood circulation. Instead, the pressure applied is purely for reducing discomfort.
Compression sleeves, which come in varying lengths, cover an individual’s skin, much like a long sleeve shirt. As a result, they can create warmth while tennis elbow braces do not.
Depending on the conditions, players may or may not perceive the added heat as a benefit, so that’s worth considering when evaluating the two.
Duration of Use
Generally, tennis elbow braces aren’t recommended for extended use, i.e., wearing them for hours on end. Instead, people will usually only wear them during an activity that causes discomfort.
However, people often wear compression sleeves for extended periods as they offer more general support.
Ease of Use
Compression sleeves are incredibly straightforward to use. Slide the sleeve over your arm, and you’re good to go.
Although tennis elbow braces aren’t overly challenging to use, they present some difficulties for individuals to achieve the proper placement.
Furthermore, elbow braces are more likely to slide on an individual’s arm during an activity such as tennis while sleeves stay in place.
Combining Braces & Sleeves
Due to their complementary benefits, many tennis players consider using braces and sleeves for optimal benefits. To that end, there are two ways you might consider approaching using them together.
Using them Together
Many players learn about the benefits of tennis elbow braces and sleeves and combine them simultaneously.
In this scenario, a player will wear a sleeve for general support and then apply a brace over the top of the sleeve for extra targeted support.
Some companies have combined the two with a compression sleeve with a strap attached to it, which has the added benefit of helping keep the strap fixed in place.
However, despite the convenience of a two-in-one solution, many players prefer to purchase a quality compression sleeve and tennis elbow brace separately.
Not only does it give you a more comprehensive selection of products to choose from, but you gain added flexibility over the placement of the elbow brace and the ability to use them separately when desired.
Using them Separately
If using them together feels excessive or uncomfortable, then another alternative is to use them separately.
In most cases, players who use them separately will wear the elbow brace while playing tennis and then the compression sleeve when they find they could use some more general support during lighter activity.
However, it’s perfectly acceptable for players to alternate using a tennis elbow brace and sleeve during play, depending on how they’re feeling.
If you’re struggling with tennis elbow, braces and sleeves present viable options for added support and relieving discomfort. However, depending on your needs, you may find one more practical than the other.
Hopefully, what we’ve shared in this resource helps provide some helpful information on their similarities and differences and why you might use one over the other or both.
Before you begin using either, we’d strongly encourage you to contact your doctor or qualified healthcare provider who can help further evaluate your symptoms, provide you with a proper diagnosis, and provide suggestions for treatment.
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