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.