Ankle sprains are the most common sports-related injury, so athletes and coaches have a high degree of interest in preventing them. In addition, almost three-quarters of athletes with ankle sprains reinjure their ankle. Multiple recurring sprains can lead to chronic ankle instability and end an athletic career.
If you are an athlete, should you wear an ankle brace when you compete? Can an ankle brace prevent sprains? Does an ankle brace make an athlete feel more confident and improve performance? The research on this issue appears inconclusive—even before we get to the question of whether a lace-up or semi-rigid ankle brace is better and how ankle braces compare to taping. The confusion arises because ankle bracing has been studied in different sports, using different style braces and on different levels of athletes, some of whom have previously experienced ankle sprains and others who have not. This makes drawing conclusions complicated.
Here are the results of some recent studies:
- A study of more than 2,000 high school football players showed that the use of lace-up ankle braces reduced ankle injuries by 61%, but braces did not reduce the severity of sprains in those who were injured.
- A study of almost 1,500 male and female high school basketball players showed that the use of lace-up ankle braces reduced the incidence of ankle injuries by 68% regardless of whether or not the player had a previous history of ankle injury, but braces did not reduce the severity of sprains in those who were injured.
- A study of 1,000 male and female high school volleyball players showed that neither lace-up nor semi-rigid ankle braces reduced ankle injuries, but semi-rigid braces prevented ankle sprains in a subgroup of athletes who had never had a sprain.
- Three small studies showed that ankle bracing and taping increased athletes’ confidence but did not improve their performance.
One area of agreement, however, is that bracing and taping cannot substitute for aggressive ankle rehabilitation after an injury. We will be happy to discuss the pros and cons of bracing and different styles of braces appropriate to your sport and level of play. We can design a program to return strength and flexibility to your ankle and help prevent reinjury.