Should Athletes Wear Ankle Braces?

12 May

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game OneFoot and ankle injuries  — both acute and chronic — are among the most commonly occurring injuries among athletes and other physically active individuals.  According to studies by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 25% of athletic injuries were foot- and ankle-related; and up to 35% of time lost to injury in running and jumping sports were because of ankle injuries.

Although it’s impossible to prevent every injury, strength, stability, and mobility exercises are beneficial as injury prevention strategies, and as rehabilitation to restore ankle joint muscle strength, range-of-motion, and neuromuscular coordination.

The question is, should athletes wear ankle braces and, if so, should the use of ankle braces be situational (pre-injury, post-injury)?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine  (NASM) says no — at least not if the athlete has not suffered a previous ankle injury. Braces and tape* should only be used when there has been an injury and the joint needs the additional support. When joints rely on braces or tape for protection, they actually tend to become weaker. When given the opportunity to strengthen through normal usage, the musculotendinous fibers become stronger and can protect the area without the use of a brace or tape.

*Regarding taping, there are several disadvantages. Although taping initially restricts ankle range of motion, the tape loosens within 30 to 60 minutes of application, cannot be reused, and requires training and time to apply properly. Ankle braces are an appealing alternative to taping, as they too restrict ankle motion but can be tightened as needed, are reusable, require minimal training to apply, and can be applied more quickly than tape.

However, there is some evidence that ankle braces may be beneficial to prevent ankle injury. A recent study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health showed that high school basketball players who wore stabilizing lace-up ankle braces had 68 percent fewer injuries than athletes who did not.

Although there is some disagreement about whether or not ankle braces should be worn to prevent ankle injury, most experts agree that ankle braces are beneficial, post-injury.

“Wearing a lace-up ankle brace is effective in reducing ankle injuries in high school basketball players regardless of age, sex (male or female), or body mass index (body weight for size). The protective effect of this simple device also helps athletes who have already had a previous ankle injury from reinjuring that ankle again. This is good news since ankle reinjury is a common problem in athletes.” (Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, ATC, et al. The Effect of Lace-Up Ankle Braces on Injury Rates in High School Basketball Players. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. September 2011. Vol. 39. No. 9. Pp. 1840-1848)

Ankle braces help prevent injury by restrict­ing motion, but those restrictions don’t necessarily result in negative effects on athletic performance. Evidence sug­gests that while agility may be affected with use of an ankle brace, vertical jump and balance skills may not.

Calf raises are an easy and effective ways to strengthen and stabilize your ankles.  Single-leg balance exercises, performed on an unstable surface (like an Airex balance pad), can “teach” the ankle to adapt and adjust to instability, reducing the incidence of ankle rolls, sprains, etc.


Your thoughts?


4 Responses to “Should Athletes Wear Ankle Braces?”

  1. Mary Kay Kollat May 13, 2014 at 7:05 AM #

    What if you have had several prior ankle injuries… is it suggested to (continue to) wear your brace? Maybe it depends on the physical exercise/activity? For example, I somewhat feel as though if I were to do a running exercise, it would be beneficial.

    • Brian Lebo May 13, 2014 at 11:35 AM #

      It would be advisable to strengthen and stabilize your ankle via joint-specific exercise, and probably prudent to continue wearing your brace.

  2. mdgatc May 13, 2014 at 8:48 AM #

    Bracing and taping has also been shown to decrease performance. Also, been shown to put more stress on the knee joint. Think about stabilizing a mobile joint, the mobility moves up the chain and creates issues at the knee

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