Support Guide: Don’t Get the Wrong Support

When you need to purchase a support for any number of issues, which support to buy depends on what is best for the specific type of help and relief you need. Many types of supports exist to alleviate discomfort and protect your body. Some issues that benefit from braces or supports include joint problems, arthritis, back problems, arch and plantar fasciitis, varicose vein or circulation issues, neck problems, broken bones, post-surgery issues and pregnancy. The best supports will fit well and provide relief, and support features will add comfort and stability.

>> Consider different types of supports

You'll discover many types of supports on the market today. Support hose, joint supports and braces, arch supports, splints, braces, elastic wraps, support belts, special gloves or boots and shaped pillows are all different types of supports. Knowing this diverse range of options gives you a great start as you learn which support to buy.

• Support hose, also known as compression stockings, are strong elastic stockings that provide relief from aching as they exert pressure on your legs. This pressure allows your veins better, more effective blood flow. Support hose are worn underneath your regular clothing. Joint supports and braces give you gentle or firm support on your joint to relieve aching, and some brace designs restrict the joint from moving at all in order to allow healing.
• Arch supports provide support for the arch of the foot. These types of supports sit separately on top of a shoe's insole or are manufactured directly into the insole. The molded form of an arch support, usually made from plastic, is rigid enough to give support yet flexible enough to offer comfort. You can buy generic sizes or order custom arch supports.
• Splints are types of supports used for immobilization of your limbs or spine. They may be a temporary measure used by medical responders during transportation to the hospital. Often made from fiberglass material, physical therapists and specialists use splints for short-term or long-term measures to immobilize a joint or limb when standing. Braces also restrict movement in limbs or joints.
• Elastic wraps wind around your limb or joint. Examples include elastic hand supports and knee supports. You will find various thicknesses and strengths of elastic available and various methods of closure, including Velcro and medical hooks. Support belts circle around your middle and back. Strong Velcro or elastic holds these types of supports in place, and back support belts might come with shoulder straps for extra stability. Shoulder supports usually wrap around your shoulder and upper back for the same reason.
• Medical support gloves protect your hand and wrist while allowing finger movement. They provide light compression and sometimes have extensions for specific support, such as thumb extensions, which cushion the base of your thumb as you type on a keyboard. Many support gloves are reversible and worn on your right or left hand.
• Support boots protect your foot and ankle with flexible or rigid material while still allowing you to walk.

Most supports allow you to put on and adjust them by yourself, with assistance as warranted by your medical condition. Make sure to consult the instruction manual if you purchase a support on your own, to ensure both proper fit and protection. Your doctor or therapist might assist you in finding the best supports for you and should show you how to put them on. Wearing your support correctly is very important.

>> Consider pillows

Shaped pillows are another consideration as you learn which supports are available. The top supports and the right pillow can facilitate relief and comfort for your head, neck, shoulders, back, hips or legs. Pillows are made from light foam, dense foam, gel and other materials and range from rectangular pillows to wedge-shaped pillows to pillow rolls. The best supports will either firmly support the affected area or conform to your body. You might find that using more than one type of pillow helps your whole body feel best.

>> Consider the materials of the supports

Different types of support materials determine comfort factors and flexibility or rigidity. Differing strengths of elastic often make up medical support wraps. Soft boots may feature a combination of flexible material, such as a spandex-based fabric, with elastic or hard plastic joints or soles. Hard splints are often made from rigid fiberglass. Different types of foot supports include a firm or flexible outer shell and sometimes a soft inside made from foam or gel. Shaped pillows and support hose usually come packaged in plastic, cardboard or a combination of both for protection.

>> Consider special features of supports

Which support to buy also depends on extra support features. Some supports offer a pocket or compartment for a heat pack or ice pack. Others, such as elastic wraps, are the best supports for more than one type of use. If you anticipate needing to bathe or shower while wearing your support, consider a waterproof support. Washable supports allow you to keep them clean, which is especially important when worn long-term. Certain supports are specifically for nighttime use, such as plantar fasciitis splints.

>> Consider accessories you might need for the supports

Some medical supports might come packaged with a custom cover or might require you to purchase one, such as shaped pillows. Make sure to check if your support needs a special cover. A splint, brace or cast will benefit from a waterproof cover if you know getting it wet is a possibility. You can wash support hose in a special wash bag designed to keep them intact and smooth, and buying a delicate detergent will help them last longer. When you feel confident about which support to buy for your needs, learning how to take good care of it is important. When making a support checklist and considering various support designs and support benefits, make sure that any accessories you plan on using are compatible with the support you want to buy.

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