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What is the Difference Between a Splint and a Brace?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Although each may be used to treat chronic conditions and acute injuries, a splint and a brace can vary in form and application. In general, a brace is meant to correct or support an injured limb or torso for an indefinite period of time, while a splint is commonly used in emergency situations to help immobilize an injured body part. Splints typically focus on bone fractures, but may also be used to help treat sprains. Conversely, braces are usually applied to tears and sprains, but may occasionally be utilized in the rehabilitation of broken bones.

In general, both a splint and a brace may be applied during emergency and first aid situations. However, splints are more commonly used in these scenarios than braces. The purpose of a splint is to help immobilize a patient during transportation to a medical facility, and may be useful in preventing sharp bone fragments from damaging blood vessels, nerves, organs, or skin. Sometimes splints may also be used in rehabilitation. In general, their main purpose in this field is to keep joints in a steady position, or allow for only a minimal amount of movement.

The purpose of a brace is most often therapeutic, and it is meant to be used for a longer time. Both a splint and a brace can be employed to help immobilize the torso or limbs, but they are also sometimes used to correct curvatures in bones and realign joints. There are many types of braces available that can be used to treat a number of ailments. These include ankle and knee braces, shoulder and elbow braces, and neck braces.

In some cases, a splint and a brace may be chosen by the patient, but often the choice is handled by a medical professional. When choosing a splint for a first aid situation, it is important to remember that it must be lightweight, wide, long, and well padded. During emergencies, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) will often select a clean fiberglass material that meets these standards.

Complex braces are generally prescribed by physicians, and are commonly custom fit to the patient. Over-the-counter braces are not usually customizable, but do come in several sizes. Braces may be made of metal, plastic, elastic, or a blend of multiple materials. Most over-the-counter designs are typically for general sprains and support during strenuous activity; however, for more severe cases, one may choose both a splint and a brace, which may help to support and partially immobilize a certain part of the body.

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Discussion Comments

By TreeMan — On Jul 08, 2011

@matthewc23 - I know what you mean. I was helping my friend redo the landscaping on his yard, and he had 5 or 6 railroad ties that were making up his flower bed. They were way heavier than I expected, and I really messed up my back. You're right, though, always wear a lifting belt to help support the weight.

I also had to use a wrist brace when I started to develop carpal tunnel from too much typing. I had to wear it for several hours each day and at night, but eventually, the pain lessened. Now I try to take breaks when I am typing for a long time.

By matthewc23 — On Jul 07, 2011

I learned the hard way about the usefulness of a back brace.

My job sometimes involves unloading trucks and lifting boxes. I never had any problems until one day when I lifted up one of the boxes and felt my back give out.

I'm not sure what exactly causes the problem, but I was in pain for several days and had to be careful about what I lifted for a few weeks. In other words, always use the proper lifting techniques, and use a brace if you are lifting especially heavy items.

By cardsfan27 — On Jul 06, 2011

I have often used the words splint and brace as the same thing. I guess I never really thought that there was a difference between the two. I have sprained several of my fingers through the years, and always used a splint.

For simple injuries like fingers that don't require a cast, you can save a ton of money by doctoring yourself. You can always find metal, padded finger splits at you local pharmacy. Then you just need to cut the piece to size and place it over your finger. You can take the injured finger to an adjoining finger for maximum stability.

If you think your finger or hand may be broken, though, you should always see a doctor to make sure that the recovery happens like it should.

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