Jeff Stearns, the inventor of the Bullseye Wrist Band became aware of an intriguing unmet need in therapeutic wrist bracing after hearing a respected hand surgeon describe a challenge he was facing with a high-profile patient – a famous professional golfer.
The patient was experiencing intense chronic pain around the ulnar head (also known as the wrist bone, the bony protuberance on the outside of the wrist). The condition, known as ‘ulnar-sided wrist pain’, is caused by acute injury such as distal radius fractures that have been plated, as well as repetitive stress. Repetitive stress injuries of the wrist can affect anyone who participates in a sport or occupation that involves stress on the wrist. Carpenters, baseball players, golfers, gymnasts, softball players, racquetball players, machine operators, and others are susceptible to this injury.
Pain on the pinkie (ulnar) side of the wrist is very common. Clinicians often refer to ulnar-sided wrist pain as the “low back pain of the wrist” because it is highly prevalent and is a chronic problem that is often unresponsive to surgical interventions. This pain can be the result of traumatic or overuse injury to bones, cartilage, ligaments or tendons.
Some causes of ulnar-sided wrist pain include the following.
- Distal Radius Wrist fractures – Specifically that have been plated
- Ulnar Styloid fractures
- DRUJ (Distal Radioulnar Joint) instability
- Arthritis of the joint(s) between bones
- Ulnar impaction syndrome (when the ulna is longer than the radius, which can cause it to “bump into” the smaller wrist bones)
- Inflammation or irritation of the tendons that bend and extend the wrist
- Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Injury (when the connection between the ulna bone and other structures in the wrist is torn by an injury or frayed over time) (read more about TFCC Tear recovery here.
- ECU (extensor carpi ulnaris) tendon subluxation/tendonitis
- Nerve injury or compression
- Masses (tumors), most commonly ganglion cysts, which are benign
- Postoperative Darrach procedure or ulna resection
- Overuse/repetitive motion
Pain can be felt at rest or with motion. Symptoms can include:
- Pain on “pinkie” side of wrist with movement
- Clicking or popping, especially with rotation
- Decreased grip strength
- Decreased or limited motion
The treatment of ulnar-sided wrist pain depends on the diagnosis. It can include some combination of activity modification, splinting or casting, hand therapy, anti-inflammatory medicine and/or steroid injections. If non-operative treatment does not relieve symptoms, surgery might be considered.
For athletes and workers who need to get back into action, the current available non-surgical options are very limited and mostly involve splinting the wrist and limiting activity until the inflammation goes away.
Seeing an opportunity to address the issue through functional bracing, Jeff began to think that targeted compression around the ulnar head could relieve pain and promote healing for these patients. Jeff realized that all the current solutions completely ignored the anatomy involved and tended to put pressure on the ulnar head, resulting more pain – exactly the opposite of the desired result of pain reduction.
To solve the problem, Jeff understood that a brace design would need to provide targeted compression and tissue control around the ulnar head without putting pressure on the ulnar head. With this knowledge, he began to design and prototype a wrist brace to address this unsolved problem. He brought a prototype back to the hand surgeon who tried it on his patient and several professional baseball players. Every patient that tried the prototype brace had a positive experience, and most had a significant reduction in pain – enough to allow them to continue playing without pain or impact on performance.
This early feedback also contributed to design refinements. Through several iterations, prototypes, and testing, Jeff reached a final, production-ready design and ordered a small number of samples. He gave one sample to Andrew, a carpentry contractor who complained of chronic debilitating wrist pain. The results for Andrew were immediate and striking – the brace allowed him to go back to work. This is not a small thing for a contractor who only makes money when the hammer is swinging.
Not only did Andrew begin using the brace daily, but he also let his friend, an avid tennis player who was suffering the same symptoms, borrow the brace. The tennis player experienced immediate relief and over the course of two weeks of use, was symptom free. Andrew also told several other carpenters about how the brace cured his pain. Soon, Jeff had carpenters knocking on his door wanting to buy his samples.
“I was in a lot of pain and my doctor wanted me to have immediate surgery. When Jeff told me he had a brace for me to try, I told him ‘I’ll try anything?’ I did not want to take time off work to have the surgery. I tried the brace for a week and suddenly I had zero issues during and after work. I did not have to put it on tight, it didn’t bother me at all, it left no marks or indentations, and sweat was not a problem. I still have the same brace and keep it in my truck to use as I need it. I’ve used the brace for over 8 years and it still looks and works like new!” Andrew Rizzo – carpentry contractor, former competitive soccer player, and Bullseye Wrist Band user
At the same time, Jeff sent a few samples to Amy and Kirk Turner, both of whom are licensed occupational therapists and certified hand therapists. Kirk used the samples with several patients with ulnar-sided-wrist pain and all patients reported favorable results after wearing the brace. Amy and Kirk were disappointed to learn that they could not order more braces and encouraged Jeff to pursue mass production so that they would have a solution for their many patients with ulnar-sided wrist pain.
Kirk and Amy have since joined the Bullseye Brace team as clinical advisors.
After making more design refinements, and having more samples made, the Bullseye Team attended the Wisconsin Hand Experience conference in Madison, Wisconsin as an exhibitor. We had a great reception from the hand therapists in Wisconsin, here are some photos from the conference.
After one more round of design changes based on feedback from many patients and hand therapists, the final design for the Bullseye Wrist Band is complete and our initial inventory is currently being built.
We’re very excited for the upcoming launch of the Bullseye TFCC Wrist Brace!