A tennis elbow brace is a medical device designed to provide relief from lateral epicondylitis. A condition of the lower arm commonly known as ‘tennis elbow’.
Tennis elbow braces come in many different shapes and sizes but typically fall into one of three categories: forearm straps, elbow sleeves, and epicondylitis clasps.
The forearm strap fits snugly around the forearm below the elbow. The elbow sleeve slips over the elbow and delivers support via compression. And the epicondylitis clasp grabs the arm firmly both above and below the elbow. By far, the most common type is the forearm strap.
We’ve examined and tested dozens of the most popular braces on the market and found the following 10 to be the best tennis elbow braces of 2020.
1. Tomight Tennis Elbow Brace
Well-built, effective, and affordable the Tomight Tennis Elbow Brace delivers safe, dependable relief from what ails your forearm. Put it under the microscope if you want. You’re not going to find any weak spots.
What we like: Definitely one of the more effective forearm straps you’ll find. It stays where you put it and takes the pressure off your forearm muscles. It’s also waterproof, easy on the skin, and affordable.
Flaws: It’s a little bulky. Sometimes the ends of the Velcro straps may catch on your shirt.
2. Cold One Elbow Ice Pack Soft Brace
The Cold One Elbow Ice Pack is for those who need more than a simple forearm strap. (Although it can be used in conjunction with one if you wish.) Just take it out of the freezer and put it on. You’ll get icy cold relief for 20 minutes at a time.
What we like: It’s an outstanding hybrid of sleeve and brace. It provides the best of both worlds while cooling down your inflamed tendons as you play, work, or just relax. If you have severe tennis elbow, this should help.
Flaws: There will no doubt be those who find it too bulky. It’s also relatively expensive.
3. Venom Elbow Brace Compression Sleeve
The Venom Compression Sleeve is perfect for those whose arm is well enough to play but who don’t want to risk re-injury. It does a bang-up job preventing tennis elbow too. Comfy and light, it makes your elbow feel tight and strong.
What we like: We love the all-around support this sleeve provides. It’s like having an extra layer of muscle over the elbow joint. It’s also attractive and light.
Flaws: The thinner your arm, the more difficult it will be to obtain that rock-solid grip from top to bottom.
4. Sparthos Tennis Elbow Band
This is another tough and effective forearm brace that provides firm but gentle pressure to the injured muscles. In doing so, it absorbs some of the energy coursing through them and takes the strain off the connective tissue.
What we like: We appreciate the fairly low profile of this forearm strap. It doesn’t interfere with your natural motion. The stitching throughout is also first-rate. And the Velcro is some of the more durable you’ll find.
Flaws: If we had to quibble, we might say that the gel is a bit squishier than we’d like to see.
5. Simien Tennis Elbow Brace
The Simien Tennis Elbow Brace is also a forearm strap and every bit as effective as most of the others on this list. One of the many great things about it is that they provide 2 for a very reasonable price. Sometimes more is better.
What we like: We like that this brace stays out of your way while you’re playing. We like that it stays in place regardless of your activity. And the e-book does a decent job explaining the hows and whys.
Flaws: Not as flexible as some other forearm straps. Likely because of the pad, which seems a bit stiff.
6. Sleeve Stars Tennis Elbow Brace
If you’re looking for an affordable and reliable tennis elbow brace, you can’t lose with this one. It’s waterproof, comfortable, and stays exactly where you put it. You also get three straps of different lengths, so you’re sure to get a perfect fit.
What we like: It’s really easy to obtain a good fit with this brace. The neoprene/nylon weave is tough as nails and fully waterproof. It’s also one of the best braces for thick forearms.
Flaws: Great for average to thick forearms, not so great for skinny forearms.
7. PlayActive Tennis Elbow Brace
The PlayActive brace takes the concept of simple design to new heights. You’d expect a brace like this to have multiple Velcro attachments, but the PlayActive has just one. It slips on easily, provides quick relief, and is built to last.
What we like: We like that the brace is extremely easy to use. We appreciate the neoprene and nylon construction that isn’t intimidated by sweat. And we like that you can choose between different pads and different straps.
Flaws: It doesn’t work as well for people with thin arms as it does for those with thicker arms.
8. Avidda Tennis Elbow Brace
The Avidda Tennis Elbow Brace goes all-in on the pain relief and support. Even at the risk of standing up a bit from your arm. If you want something to wear while you’re playing, this probably isn’t it. But for the rest of the day, it’s hard to beat.
What we like: The brace does an excellent job relieving forearm stress. We like that anyone should be able to achieve a perfect fit. And the ample Velcro strapping keeps it firmly in place. It’s also reasonably priced.
Flaws: That EVA foam pad that provides such outstanding forearm relief is pretty bulky and may interfere with aspects of your swing.
9. Kunto Fitness Elbow Brace
The Kunto Elbow Brace employs firm, even compression around the entire elbow joint. It’s like slipping on an extra set of muscles that envelop the joint and buttress every movement. Great for playing, wearing to work, or providing relief while watching TV.
What we like: We love the way this sleeve grips the entire elbow system. The hold is firm while still retaining flexibility. We like the feel of the sleeve from end to end. And we appreciate how well that sleeve stays in place.
Flaws: Sizing accuracy seems to be a common complaint. And if you have massive biceps (don’t we all?), the upper end may roll down a bit.
10. DashSport Tennis Elbow Brace
Last but not least is the two-part DashSport Tennis Elbow Brace. You get a state of the art compression sleeve and a forearm strap that can be used with it or separately. It’s the kind of versatility we appreciate, and it won’t cost an arm and a leg.
What we like: We appreciate the copper in the brace that helps give it strength and durability. We like how breathable the sleeve is, despite covering the entire elbow. But most of all we like how effectively the two parts work together.
Flaws: The sleeve is likely to wear out before the brace, although the brace by itself should still help some.
Who Needs a Tennis Elbow Brace?
The obvious answer is that people with tennis elbow need a tennis elbow brace. And that’s true. But the condition – also known as ‘lateral epicondylitis’ – doesn’t only afflict tennis players. Anyone who brings unusual amounts of stress to bear on the muscles of their forearm is a candidate for lateral epicondylitis. That includes tennis players, golfers, squash players, people who do fencing (with swords), weight lifters, racquetball players, and rock climbers.
In addition, many tradespeople regularly use power tools that stress the lower portion of their arms and can cause epicondylitis (1). Things like power drills, screwdrivers, hammers, and more. And if you think tennis elbow is the exclusive domain of younger, athletic types or construction workers, think again. Older individuals who knit or type or enjoy painting pictures can also fall victim to tennis elbow.
How We Ranked
There are a lot of things to consider when looking for a tennis elbow brace. As we mulled over potential selections for our list, we began by considering the different types of braces.
Strap braces provide a pad that is pressed against the muscles of the forearm. They’re very popular. But they vary in terms of effectiveness. So we were careful only to select ones that proved most effective for the most people. There are also a number of sleeve-style braces out there. And we love the lightweight and diffuse but firm pressure the best ones exhibit.
The materials that make up the brace were also important. The fact is, there are a lot of discount braces out there that look great. But once you put them to the test, they begin to fall apart almost immediately. Seams split, the Velcro doesn’t hold, the gel pad is too hard or not hard enough. All the braces on our list, however, passed material muster.
Comfort was another factor. It goes without saying that having a brace strap around your forearm is going to create a bit of discomfort. But that should be more than offset by the relief it provides from the pain and discomfort of the condition itself. If it’s not providing that relief but only causing you forearm distress, it’s not good enough. We also considered size. Since you may wind up playing some sport wearing it, the brace shouldn’t be so bulky that it gets in the way.
A tennis elbow brace will alleviate pain and discomfort. Tennis elbow is caused by stress and strain on the muscles that run along the back of the forearm (2). Exactly the type of stress caused by sports such as tennis. Hence the name. A tennis elbow brace provides extra support to the muscles and tendons in the affected area. By doing so, it alleviates much of the pain and discomfort.
A tennis elbow brace is easy to use and effective. The typical tennis elbow brace can be put in place in a matter of a few seconds. In the case of a sleeve, it can be slipped on with little effort and has no straps to adjust. When you consider how difficult some health conditions are to treat, being able to get relief from your forearm pain so quickly and easily makes the tennis elbow brace a great healthcare value.
A tennis elbow brace can keep you in the game. Now, let’s be clear: the preferred route for a fast recovery is to take a break from playing and wear the brace. Then once the pain subsides, go back to playing (easy at first) while continuing to wear the brace. That said, you can continue to play with the brace on if you have mild symptoms. But you’ll need to ratchet back the intensity. And even then it may draw out your recovery time.
A tennis elbow brace is affordable. Hired a physical therapist lately? As helpful as they are they don’t come cheap (3). In fact, if your insurance doesn’t cover physical therapy, you may wind up paying several hundred dollars per hour of treatment. Who has that kind of money? A tennis elbow brace is an effective and – just as important – affordable way to alleviate the pain and discomfort of lateral epicondylitis.
A tennis elbow brace can help you reclaim your game. When people get back to playing after a bout of tennis elbow, many are reluctant to go all out. They’re afraid that leaning into their stroke the way they used to will cause a recurrence of their pain. The tennis elbow brace can provide you the support and confidence you need to get back on the court and reclaim your real game, not some half-speed version of your game.
A tennis elbow brace is better than corticosteroids. Beside rest, doctors often recommend people with tennis elbow use painkillers to deal with the pain and discomfort. In some cases, physical therapists will recommend steroid injections. But while such injections are sometimes presented as free of complications that is not actually the case (4). Corticosteroids can produce heartburn, mood changes, insomnia, nausea, and accelerated heartbeat (tachycardia). A brace allows you to obtain relief without the odious side effects.
A tennis elbow brace can prevent future injury. Once you’ve returned to the court or the golf course, one of your primary concerns will no doubt be how to avoid reinjuring your elbow. The answer is simple: wear the brace while playing. If the brace you used while you were resting your arm isn’t conducive to playing, try another one. A sleeve style brace is often the best choice for active individuals. It provides support but stays completely out of your way.
A tennis elbow brace is part of an overall recovery strategy. In order to effectively recover from tennis elbow as quickly as possible, you’ll need to employ more than just a brace. People regularly stretch their legs and back before playing, but don’t think about the muscles in their arms. So get in the habit of stretching the muscles of the forearm (5). And don’t abandon the idea of massages either. Because, while a professional masseuse may be beyond your budget, there are many self-massage techniques that are just as effective (6).
A tennis elbow brace can prevent your condition from getting worse. Once you become aware that you’re experiencing tennis elbow symptoms, it’s time to act. Don’t wait for things to fall apart. Buy a high-quality tennis elbow brace, wear it regularly, and take a break from tennis or golf or racquetball for a short time. By doing so, you will prevent the condition from getting worse and will set you on the road to recovery sooner rather than later.
A tennis elbow brace is low impact relief. A bit earlier we debunked the idea that corticosteroid injections are essentially harmless by noting some of the more common side effects. But the potential downside of steroid injections goes far beyond just an upset stomach. Research indicates (7) they may damage the muscle tissue at the cellular level. That’s not going to happen if you employ a tennis elbow brace instead.
A tennis elbow brace looks cool. This is particularly true of the better tennis elbow sleeves. Granted, some people are not concerned with looking cool. They just want to get better. And that’s fine. But if you’re of a mind that getting better shouldn’t mean having to look like Frankenstein’s monster, then you’ll appreciate the thought and effort that goes into some of these devices. Instead of looking injured, you can look large and in charge.
A tennis elbow brace can be worn as long as you need it. Medication-driven therapies come with limits attached. Excessive use of NSAIDs for instance can cause kidney damage, profuse bleeding, ulcers, heartburn and more (8). While, as we’ve seen above, corticosteroid injections exact a toll of their own and can only be administered intermittently. By comparison, you can wear your tennis elbow brace as often as you need it.
A tennis elbow brace won’t irritate your skin. Most tennis elbow braces are made from materials like nylon and neoprene. While it’s possible for any fabric to cause irritation (9) it is exceedingly rare for it either of these to do so. As such, unless you know you are one of the rare individuals whose skin is sensitive to these fabrics, you should be able to wear them with impunity.
A tennis elbow brace provides graduated compression. The sleeve-style tennis elbow brace is often designed to apply graduated compression. That means it applies greater compression to the elbow joint and that the compression decreases the closer you get to the wrist and bicep. This enables the sleeve/brace to deliver pressure and support only where it’s needed. Compression stockings also use this type of weave to great effect (10).
A tennis elbow brace is durable. Of course, the durability of a given brace will depend on the materials and build quality. And there are certainly some that aren’t worth the plastic they’re made from. But the high-quality braces – like the ones on the above list – should hold up to repeated use and long term wear and tear and enable you to fully recover.
A tennis elbow brace is portable. You can’t take the physical therapist or doctor with you everywhere you go. But you can take your tennis elbow brace. It’s light and small enough to fit easily into your carry on bag. And it won’t conjure up the ire of TSA the way some sports creams can. Wherever you are on planet earth, you’ll be able to continue your rehab from epicondylitis uninterrupted.
A tennis elbow brace can be used over and over. No one wants to have to dust off their tennis elbow brace and use it a second or third time. But because the best braces are very durable and easy to store, they’ll be there for you should you have cause to use them again. Of course, the best way to ensure your tennis elbow doesn’t flare back up is to continue to wear the brace, even after you feel better.
A tennis elbow brace enables better overall health. Inactivity kills (11). So anything that allows you to get or stay active is going to be a net plus when it comes to your overall health. A tennis elbow brace is no different. By enabling a quick and complete recovery and allowing you to resume physical activity unimpeded, the tennis elbow brace enables a high quality of overall health in both the short and long term.
Q: Are tennis elbow braces really effective?
A: Yes, tennis elbow braces really are effective. They’re effective at reducing the pain and discomfort of epicondylitis. They’re effective at enabling a faster, more complete recovery. And they’re effective at preventing re-injury going forward. You can do your part by making sure you get adequate rest and that you stretch your forearm muscles before playing or working. Also, listen to what your body is telling you and stop if you feel significant pain.
Q: What causes tennis elbow?
A: Tennis elbow is a wear and tear type of injury in the same vein as plantar fasciitis (12) or a rotator cuff injury (13). It’s called tennis elbow because tennis players are frequent victims. Why? Because of the unnatural stress that’s brought to bear on the extensor tendons in the forearm during a tennis match. Over time this stress is too much for the tendons to bear and you end up with tennis elbow. If left untreated, this pain and stiffness will get progressively worse.
Q: Is a compression sleeve as effective as a brace?
A: Let’s set the record straight first: a compression sleeve is a brace. Just a different kind of brace. Instead of using rigid (or semi-rigid) elements to curtail the movement of specific muscles, it uses the principle of compression. In this way it bolsters the integrity of the muscles and the various other components of the joint. Many of the best tennis sleeves offer the kind of graduated compression you’ll find in compression stockings used to stave off deep vein thrombosis (14).
Q: How do I know I have tennis elbow?
A: The first sign that you might have tennis elbow is often stiffness in the elbow when you first wake up. Beyond that, you may also experience soreness in the elbow or the forearm. Also, you may experience pain in the forearm when you try to grip something. If you had the pain for some time before you decided to treat it, there’s a chance it may not respond to ice or even rest. So early detection and early action are essential.
Q: Does a tennis elbow brace need to be waterproof?
A: In theory it doesn’t need to be. But why would anyone want a brace that wasn’t? Chances are the brace is going to get wet at some point. Either you’re going to sweat into it or get caught in the rain wearing it. Because of that, it won’t be much good if it just soaks up this moisture and starts to degrade. The better tennis elbow braces are made from neoprene (15) and nylon or other waterproof or water-resistant fabrics. Do yourself a favor and make sure yours is too.
Q: Should I bend my arm when measuring for an elbow brace?
A: It’s likely that a lot of people who complain of poor fitting tennis elbow braces got them by measuring their forearm the wrong way. The first type of measurement will be too small. And the second type will be too big. The preferred way to measure is to stand and bend your arm until it is pointing straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor. The forearm should not be flexed or hanging loose. Measure it then.
Q: How long will I have to wear a tennis elbow brace?
A: To a large extent, this will depend on how long you had symptoms before you decided to act. If you acted quickly, gave the arm some rest, and began to wear a good tennis elbow brace right away, you might get over it in a few weeks. You can likely continue to play as well though you may have to pull back a little to give the arm a break. If, however, you procrastinated and let the condition fester, you may be looking at a year-long recovery.
Q: Should a tennis elbow brace be tight?
A: It should be snug, not tight. The goal of the brace is to provide support to the affected tissue, not prevent it from moving at all. It still needs to work. And it still needs proper blood flow to work well. So, whether you’re using a forearm strap or an elbow sleeve (or both), they should be snug but not so tight they cut off circulation.
Q: Do I really need a tennis elbow brace?
A: Only you can determine what you need. But if you want to recover, we’d strongly advise using a tennis elbow brace. As we have mentioned, you should also do what you can to help the brace. That includes stretching the forearm muscles before you hit the court, golf course, or construction site. It can help a lot to learn some self-massage techniques too. Finally, make sure you drink plenty of water. As proper hydration plays a key role in tissue repair and recovery (16).
Q: Is there any way to avoid getting tennis elbow?
A: The easiest way to avoid tennis elbow is to stop any activities that could potentially cause it. For most people, however, this is a non-starter. And understandably so. Simply giving up your active life because you might develop tennis elbow is silly. A better approach is to get into the habit of stretching the forearm muscles before playing or working. And wearing a sleeve or other type of brace whenever you do work or play.
Q: Are tennis elbow braces expensive?
A: When you consider all the aggravation and trips to the doctor they’re going to save you over time you might think elbow braces would be expensive. But most can be had for less than the price of a can of tennis balls, or a round of golf at your favorite course. They’re the kind of common sense, affordable healthcare apparatus that’s just too good to ignore. Why take chances with your arm when you can protect it for pennies a day?
Q: How do you clean a tennis elbow brace?
A: As we mentioned earlier, most of these braces are fashioned from neoprene with nylon or polyester also thrown into the mix. As such, water isn’t going to harm them. All you need in most cases is to wash them in some cold water and mild laundry soap. Then let the brace air dry completely before putting it on again. If you don’t want to use commercial soap products, add a bit of vinegar and baking soda to the water. Rinse well afterward and allow to air dry.
Q: Am I doomed to have tennis elbow the rest of my life?
A: Not by a long shot. While there are cases of people being unable to shake the condition, they’re typically the ones who waited too long to get treatment in the first place. Muscles aren’t indestructible after all. If they’re neglected and overworked long enough, they’ll experience permanent damage. So the key to preventing your new case of tennis elbow from becoming a chronic condition is to act fast and get a good tennis elbow brace.
Regardless of the exact form it takes the tennis elbow brace can make the difference between chronic pain and timely recovery. They’re convenient, easy to use, effective, and, maybe best of all, affordable.
If you wake up one morning with a stiff, sore elbow and suspect your favorite sport or your job may be the cause, don’t wait. Pick up one of the tennis elbow braces on our list and set yourself on the road to recovery before things get out of hand. Better yet, start using one before you have a problem.
Each of the braces on our list have demonstrated their quality and effectiveness. You’ll find them to be invaluable allies when it comes to both treating and preventing lateral epicondylitis. Use the information provided above to help you make the right choice.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended tennis elbow brace, click here.