Q: I am a high school senior with rheumatoid arthritis, and in the past I have worn a plastic splint on my elbow to straighten it. However, the splint is large and heavy and a pain to wear, especially at night. Are you aware of splints made out of lighter, easier-to-wear materials?

A: Good news! There's a good chance you can get a lighter-weight splint. First I would recommend that you speak to your doctor to find out the purpose of the splint he has prescribed, because there are basically two types of splints. One, which is relatively light to begin with, is designed to increase the joint's range of motion. It works by adjusting to progressively straighten the joint to keep it from becoming fixed in one position. The second type, which is often made of heavier molded plastic, is designed to hold the joint in one particular position. By doing so, the splint serves as kind of a "bed" to allow the joint and muscles surrounding it to rest.

Because you say your splint is heavy, I assume the second type I've mentioned is the type you have. In either case, there are some new lighter-weight versions on the market. Once you have learned from your doctor the type of splint you need, see an occupational therapist (OT), who will probably be able to make or order one for you. If your OT is unfamiliar with lighter-weight splints, a certified hand therapist may be able to help you.

Dena Slonaker, OTR, Occupational therapist