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What is a Counterforce Brace?

By Christina Whyte
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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A counterforce brace is a type of arm brace that is most often used for tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and similar tendon strain and inflammation problems. These conditions can be collectively referred to as elbow tendinitis, meaning inflammation of the tendons of the elbow. A counterforce brace is a simple inelastic cuff that goes around the forearm just below the elbow. It should fit snugly but not be so tight that it restricts blood flow or so loose that it slides around. These braces are used as part of an overall rehabilitation program for elbow pain.

In sports and jobs requiring repetitive arm movement, tendon strain and inflammation that causes pain is fairly common. Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, is the most common repetitive strain injury of the elbow and is particularly likely in tennis players, as the name suggests. Medial epicondylitis, or golfer's elbow, is a similar injury which is somewhat less common, and refers to pain in the inner elbow rather than the outer elbow, as occurs in lateral epicondylitis. These overuse injuries can occur in any sport or activity that requires repeated hand, wrist, and forearm twisting, extending, and flexing movements, such as swimming, baseball, fencing, painting, using a hammer or scrubbing a floor.

A counterforce brace may be recommended as part of a conservative management of overuse injuries, including hot and cold therapy, stretches, and anti-inflammatory medication. These braces work by unloading some of the tension and force from the affected tendon by reducing the magnitude of muscle contraction that can occur. Many patients and health professionals find them to be extremely helpful for elbow tendinitis caused by repetitive movement.

There are several advantages of this brace. They are relatively cheap, easy to find, and easy to use. They provide almost immediate relief from pain as well, which is very important as the pain can be quite significant in these conditions. They also allow the wearer's elbow to heal without constantly putting more strain on the tendon during daily life activities.

One of the disadvantages of this type brace is that, due to the pain relief, the wearer may fail to address the possible problems underlying recurrent arm tendon pain. These problems could be something like poor form, lack of appropriate warm-up exercises, or simply pushing the body too hard. Frequent elbow pain is not inevitable in sports such as tennis, and the cause of injury or chronic pain should always be investigated.

Counterforce braces are only a part of an overall rehabilitation program, and simply wearing one while performing repetitive elbow movement is not sufficient treatment. Exercises, stretching, massage, and anti-inflammatory medication are other important rehabilitation modalities. Counterforce brace wearers can become dependent on the brace rather than use it appropriately as a tool to help the tendon heal. Weaning off of the brace is crucial so the muscles can be strengthened and future injury or strain can be avoided.

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