You’ve seen the commercials, the web ads, and even the products themselves in the store. But the ubiquity of copper compression garments only begs the question, “Do copper braces even work?”
Let’s dive into the premise of copper braces and the science behind the claims they make.
Copper Braces: What They Claim to Do
When you sprain your ankle or twist your knee, your response should be “rest, ice, compression, elevation,” or something similar. A compression brace will help support your injury and protect it from further harm, and an ice pack will stem the swelling.
But what role does copper play in the healing process?
The copper garment industry would have you believe that copper holds intrinsic “anti-inflammatory” and “healing” properties that can treat arthritis, sprains, and other musculoskeletal injuries.
However, this claim is mostly false. There is little evidence to support the idea that a copper-infused garment is anti-inflammatory.
Research Behind Copper
Copper plays an indispensable role in the body, from brain development to blood vessel construction to wound healing. A copper deficiency could lead to serious problems, such as anemia and a compromised immune system. We certainly can’t live without copper – it’s essential to so many of the body’s systems.
The idea of copper as an anti-inflammatory agent, however, was first explored in the late 1940s. When given copper, animals demonstrated a reduced inflammatory response to arthritis. Later on, copper nanoparticles were pit against cancer cells in rats and won, not only destroying tumors but also boosting natural immunity against future tumors.
Importantly, the copper used in these studies was “copper complexes,” not “copper-infused garments.” The administration of copper complexes is a lot more pharmacological than squeezing into a pair of socks, and the claim that copper is anti-inflammatory on contact is nothing short of made-up.
Copper Bracelets and Arthritis
The big question for this article was about copper braces, and we’re getting to those. But researchers have also asked the question, “do copper bracelets work?” The answer is another resounding “no.”
Because of those early studies on copper and arthritis, people assumed that wearing copper bracelets would help reduce inflammation. But in controlled, scientific studies, copper bracelets were no better than any other bracelet for treating arthritis. Even applying a topical, copper-infused cream to arthritic joints did not ease pain beyond a placebo effect.
Expecting a copper garment or accessory to give your body the same benefit as a copper complex is like wearing a wool coat to boost your fiber intake. If copper is truly anti-inflammatory, it does not offer this benefit by proxy.
The Real Benefits of Copper: Antimicrobial Properties
What research does support, however, is copper’s biocidal and antifungal capabilities.
Move over, Lysol – copper kills up to 99.9% of bacteria within two hours of contact. That’s why engineers have used copper in plumbing, shipbuilding, and public sanitation for decades. Copper is both safe for the body and lethal to germs, capable of sanitizing infections and wounds.
The bacteria that make a sweaty sock smelly are no match for copper, so the claim that copper is antimicrobial is actually true. However, only a trace amount of copper is infused into each brace. It isn’t fair to compare the performance of tiny strands of copper with that of a pure copper plumbing system. Infused into a garment, copper’s famed antimicrobial benefits are probably too small to make a huge difference in bacterial content.
So while a copper brace may not get as smelly as a normal brace, it’s a stretch to call it deodorized.
The Real Anti-inflammatory Agent: Compression
If you’re looking to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and speed healing, look to compression, not copper. A well-fitting compression brace will encourage blood flow to the injury while staving off swelling.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but wearing a compression brace will improve your blood circulation and bring vital nutrients to your injury. So whether you have arthritis, a sprained ankle, or chronic back pain, better blood circulation means less pain.
Besides compression, a medical brace will treat your injury by keeping it insulated, protected, and stabilized. Pain from arthritis is often ameliorated when the joint is kept warm and compressed. And a supportive brace can reduce the chance of tweaking your wrist and causing further pain.
Copper Braces: Brands to Try
Copper braces are generally more expensive than other braces, so you’ll be paying more for a slight antimicrobial advantage, if that.
But anecdotal evidence is powerful stuff. If you’re curious to try a copper brace based on the adamant testimony of someone you know, by all means, try it out. Placebo effect is still an effect, and any harmless pain reduction is worth a try.
The following three brands offer some of the best-selling copper braces available online.
A big name in copper garments, Copper Compression boasts they use the highest copper content in their products compared to their competitors. If that’s true, then whatever benefit copper offers will (allegedly) be strongest in a Copper Compression brace.
Nearly every sports accessory you can think of is available from Copper Compression. Their wrist brace is a great option for stabilizing a joint that’s aggravating your arthritis or getting overworked. The compression at the wrist will help reduce swelling, and the warm neoprene will keep the joint well-insulated as it heals.
Tommie Copper claims to be the “original” copper company, but they’ve come under fire for false claims in the past. A 2015 lawsuit penalized Tommie Copper for advertising “anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties” in their copper products. Because these claims were unsubstantiated, the company had to shell out considerable cash to correct it.
However, just because the benefits were overblown doesn’t mean they’re totally absent. The back brace from Tommie Copper may certainly help reduce pain, improve comfort, and offload the overworked muscles in your back – but because of its compression, not its copper content.
Copper Joint is careful to make moderate claims about copper compression, whether it’s a brace, sleeve, or sock. Because so many of their products incorporate compression, breathable neoprene, and warm insulation, their claims are mostly true.
The ankle brace from Copper Joint is a slim, soft wrap that will support the foot and ankle without bulking up your shoes. This wrap is perfect for an ankle injury, but its compression may also benefit sharp heel pain such as plantar fasciitis.
The Truth Behind Copper Braces: Conclusion
I hope I’ve made it clear by now that claims regarding copper compression are usually overblown. While copper does fight bacteria and can potentially reduce inflammation internally, neither quality has been replicable in copper-infused garments.
Unless you really want a garment that could potentially curb a little bit of body odor, you’re better off choosing a compression brace that doesn’t make such fanciful claims. You’ll save money and keep yourself from buying into inflated advertising.