Best Shoulder Braces for Football

Due to the fast-paced and high-impact nature of football, injuries are common. The types of injuries and the rates at which they occur depend on the level of play as well as a player’s position. Shoulder injuries are the fourth most common injury seen in football players.

A study by Kaplin et al (2005) found ​that 50% of the players at the NFL combine had a history of shoulder injury with 34% of them having undergone surgery for their injuries. In the same study, quarterbacks had the highest percentage of shoulder injuries, then defensive backs and linebackers.

A similar study of NFL quarterbacks found that, next to head trauma, shoulder injuries were the most common injuries. The study also found that over 80% of injuries were due to contact plays, overuse injuries made up the remainder.

We'll get straight to the point and provide some of our top picks for different types of shoulder braces for football. We will provide an overview of how the particular shoulder braces may be good for football players, and we will also select a variety of price ranges so you can further understand the difference in quality.

If you would like to learn more about shoulder braces in general, please check out our detailed information below our reviews, which discuss shoulder injuries and how braces can help with recovery, as well as a couple informative videos to further your understanding. If you want to see other reviews of shoulder braces, check out our list of the best shoulder braces, which focuses on a variety of styles for many different sports and activities, as well as general use. At the end of the day, the more you know, the better equipped you are during the recovery process!

Reviews - Best Shoulder Braces for Football

The Saunders Sully Shoulder Brace

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This popular shoulder brace is actually the same one that was used in the 2002 study mentioned below that found an improvement in proprioception following injury to the shoulder joint. Though the fitted neoprene helps with compression and proprioception, this brace also controls range motion in all directions. Additionally, the neoprene is perforated, so it will move with your body without rubbing and chafing. 

The Saunders Sully shoulder brace is also designed for either post-injury or post-surgery. Customers have successfully used this brace to rehabilitate rotator cuff injuries as well as dislocations and in a variety of sports, not just football. One of the most practical features of this shoulder brace is that it is reversible, allowing for you to wear it on either your right or left shoulder. The elastic straps are great for optimizing comfort, and they can be moved in all directions and attached to any of the Velcro portions, which allows for a more personalized fit.

Overall, this is really good shoulder brace for football or any other sport. It's highly recommended by many different types of athletes and has proven to be extremely durable, especially considering how lightweight and flexible it is. It provides solid support in all directions without inhibiting you from playing. The main downside of this shoulder brace is the cost, as it's definitely more expensive than many other popular options for shoulder braces. That being said, the classic saying "you get what you pay for" often holds true, and this shoulder brace is no different. So if it's in the budget, we highly recommend it, otherwise it might be worth considering other shoulder brace options as well.

EVS Sports Shoulder Braces

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EVS SB03

This line of braces is less expensive than the Saunders Sully shoulder brace that we reviewed above. The EVS SB02 is quite popular, although some customers have struggled with finding the proper sizing. The EVS design is less bulky than some other more expensive brands, but depending on your injury, this can be the proper shoulder brace for somebody looking for a little added shoulder support. This comfortable and adjustable mid-range brace can also be used on both the left and right shoulders. EVS has also added a new adjustable arm closure that helps eliminate underarm chafing, which is definitely a practical factor worth considering. This is a nice supportive shoulder brace than many people love, and for those looking for additional protection, EVS Sports also makes a few other shoulder braces as well, on of which we will review directly below this one.

EVS SB04 with added shoulder impact protection

Another model from the same brand, the EVS SB04, adds a supportive shoulder cup to the SB02 design, which can provide more restriction of movement for those that need it. The extra bit of padding is also a welcome addition to those playing contact sports. This added shoulder padding is made of molded 1680D ballistic nylon, which makes it very strong without adding barely any weight. Like the SB03, this particular EVS shoulder brace is reversible, allowing it to be worn on either the left or right shoulder.

All this being said, the impact protection on the shoulder has mixed reviews. Some love it, some don't. This will depend largely on your activity. If you're returning to football to the point where you're wearing pads again and not just lowers, then you likely won't have room for the extra shoulder protection, and besides, your normal football pads would add that protection for you anyway.

Overall, both of these EVS shoulder braces provide great value. They are almost as good as the Saunders Sully shoulder brace that we reviewed above, but comes in at less than half the cost of the Saunders Sully shoulder brace. So while it may not be quite as good overall, it's definitely better bang-for-your-buck, at least in terms of the brace itself. The vast majority of customers love the brace, but the jury is still out on the additional shoulder pad provided by the EVS Sports SB04 shoulder brace.

Shock Doctor 842 Shoulder Brace

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Another shoulder brace at a reasonable price range, the Shock Doctor 842 shoulder brace is fully adjustable and can provide stability in multiple positions. This shoulder brace is well-reviewed by many customers for its durability and anatomical fit.

Similar to the EVS SB02, this brace isn’t overly bulky but can provide adequate support. Some customers have commented that it isn’t as stiff or restrictive of their movement as they envisioned, so if you need maximum support, we would suggest looking at some other options, but for medium support this shoulder brace works well. In fact, it's technically considered "Performance Level 3 medium support". It also comes in multiple sizes, from XS to XXXL, so there are definitely options for most types of athletes, especially football players.

Like the other shoulder braces we reviewed, the Shock Doctor 842 shoulder brace can be worn on either side of the body. The proprietary N-Tex material also provides a moisture-wicking ability for sweaty conditions while also insulating some heat in desired regions for therapeutic warmth and compression.

Overall, this a great shoulder brace if you're looking a medium level of shoulder support. Its lightweight and compact design makes it suitable for many different types of athletes, and football players could potentially wear this under their pads. This is a good value shoulder brace that is comparable to the EVS Sports shoulder braces.

Vive Shoulder Brace

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The Vive shoulder brace, which is almost completely neoprene, is a popular shoulder sleeve for compression. Some customers question its breathability, but others appreciate the heating effect it has on the shoulder to soothe a stiff joint, so that's definitely something to consider if you're looking for a shoulder brace that is more of a sleeve design.

Given this simple design and minimal materials involved, the Vive shoulder brace is very affordable. The thin neoprene design also means it can fit under most equipment and uniforms without getting in your way. Moreover, given that it is often worn under equipment or other sports apparel, is made of fairly elastic material, and tightly surrounds the highly mobile shoulder joint, Vive has made sure to provide an extra-strength highly-adjustable strap for the high-quality latching ability.

Overall, this shoulder sleeve is ideal for those looking for good compression, but not much extra restriction with certain movements. If you usually wear something a little more robust with added support, or this is your first shoulder brace and you're using it to help with an injury, we would suggest talking with your doctor or physiotherapist first to make sure your shoulder is ready to be that mobile. If your shoulder injury is something that just requires a little added support in the form of compression, then this could be a good option, especially considering the low cost.

Common Shoulder Injuries in Football

It is best to know some background about injuries to the shoulder before picking a brace. As mentioned, the types of injuries sustained during football depend on the position being played. The Kaplan study, introduced above, found that acromioclavicular separation, anterior instability (dislocated shoulder), and rotator cuff injury were the top three most common injuries reported. A pinched nerve can be a result of a number of injuries and can cause pain, tingling, and numbness at the site of the nerve impingement or in other tissues.

The acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) is where the outer portion of the shoulder blade (acromion) meets the collarbone (clavicle). The AC joint is injured when the ligaments that stabilize the area and hold the joint together are stretched or torn. Most commonly, this injury occurs when a player falls onto the shoulder. You may also hear this injury being called a shoulder separation and its severity can range from 1 to 6. Usually, grades 1 to 3 are mild and can be treated with tape and physiotherapy. More serious grades (4-6) can require surgery and may cause a deformity caused by the collarbone pulling upwards when the surrounding ligaments are weakened. Often a shoulder support, in the form of a brace, is used to stabilize the joint following injury to assist in proper healing and recovery.​

Mechanism of AC Joint Injury

The video below shows an example of one of the most common ways to sustain an injury to the AC joint as described above. In this example, the New England Patriot's back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, injures his AC joint after running out of the pocket, throwing downfield, and then subsequently being tackled.

At 1:20 in the video, they provide a close-up slow-motion angle of Garoppolo being tackled. Notice his right shoulder hitting the ground. In this case, the injury is likely considered Grade 1-3, as surgery was not required and his timetable to return is on the order of a few weeks. In any case, this is one of the more common ways to injure the AC joint in football.

Shoulder Injuries in Football Cont'd...

The shoulder is the most commonly dislocated joint in the body. About 95% of the dislocations in the shoulder are because of what is known as anterior instability. This occurs after an impact or fall that compromises that stability of the shoulder joint and allows the arm bone (humerus) to dislocate anteriorly (forward). After a shoulder dislocates once it is often susceptible to more dislocations and joint laxity (looseness). Recurrent shoulder dislocation may require surgery to repair the damage in the shoulder joint and strengthen or replace tissues that were damaged.

The rotator cuff is a complex network of ligaments and muscle that allows the shoulder joint to move through its natural range of motion. Damage to the rotator cuff can occur due to repeated stress or repetitive motion, sometimes called an overuse injury, or wearing down of the tendons in the shoulder (tendonitis). A single contact, fall, or accident can also cause a rotator cuff injury. The muscles and/or tendons can be sprain or torn, causing pain, decreased range of motion, and loss of strength.

A different type of injury, called shoulder impingement, is common in athletes whose arms go through a range of motion over their head often, like in basketball or as a football quarterback. This happens when the outside point of the shoulder blade (acromion) repeatedly comes in contact with the tendons and supportive tissue of the rotator cuff. As with excessive shoulder dislocation, serious damage to the rotator cuff may require surgery to repair the compromised tissues.​

How do shoulder braces help with injuries?

A shoulder brace for football may be useful in two scenarios: 1) to prevent injury (a so-called prophylactic brace), or, 2) as a recover tool following injury and/or surgery. For the most part, shoulder braces to prevent injury would be worn by somebody who has already injured that area in the past, so basically a player trying to avoid a recurrent injury.

The best shoulder supports following an injury can be a good way to speed up recovery, in combination with physiotherapy. A shoulder brace supports the joint and surrounding area, allowing the area to heal. By providing compression, a brace can help restrict excessive inflammation and swelling of the joint.

Restriction of movement by the brace will help prevent the shoulder joint from moving out of position into a position of instability or dislocation. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense where a joint is in its range of motion. This ability is often diminished following an injury to a joint, requiring neuromuscular training to regain, often through the form of physiotherapy and subsequent sport-specific rehab/training regimes. In fact, a 2002 study found that the tight compression of a shoulder brace may improve proprioception by enhancing neural feedback.

For an example of exactly how shoulder braces can limit certain shoulder joint movements, please check out the informative video below, which shows how to put on the Saunders Sully shoulder brace, as well as it's different features that provide various levels of restriction for certain movements. 

Types of Shoulder Braces

Shoulder braces can range in the amount of support they provide. A more supportive brace, sometimes called a shoulder stabilizer, combines neoprene and Velcro straps to maintain support and restrict the movement of the shoulder joint. A less supportive brace, sometimes called a shoulder support, may be more neoprene-based and just help with the healing process via compression.

A shoulder support may be recommended for a minor injury or in later stages of recovery following a more serious injury. For very serious injuries or after surgery, a shoulder immobilizer, which is much like a heavy duty sling, may be used to fully unload the shoulder joint to allow for recovery.

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