By Bryce Paschold, DPM, Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center
Ankle sprains have been known to be the most common injury in all of sports, accounting for 40 percent of all sports-related injuries. There are approximately 3 million ankle sprains seen per year in the United States. As a result, ankle bracing or taping has become a controversial topic in the world of foot and ankle sports medicine. An ankle brace is a device usually made from a combination of plastics and neoprene that protects and supports the ankle, reducing the amount of motion that the ankle is allowed, while also partially immobilizing the ankle to help stabilize the joint. There are definitely arguments for and against bracing. On the plus side, a brace aids in protection and helps to avoid injury, but the downside is the possible loss of strength and becoming overly dependent on the ankle brace in the long term.
One study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine showed that ankle bracing in high school basketball players reduced the rate of ankle sprains threefold in comparison to the control group of athletes who were not braced. Since there is proof that ankle braces can reduce the rate of injury, why shouldn’t all athletes wear ankle braces? Some believe that this can lead to decreased strength and “weak ankles” if wearing the braces consistently. To debunk this myth, a study from the Journal of Athletic Training was performed to assess muscle strength after wearing an ankle brace for eight weeks. This study found that there was no decrease in muscle strength after wearing a brace. However, an athlete should still get in the daily habit of performing ankle strengthening exercises to keep the ankles as strong as possible to help decrease the risk of an injury, even if they choose to wear a brace.
Ankle taping has been found to be just as effective in reducing injury as ankle bracing, but the tape only keeps its strength for an average of one half of a basketball game, whereas the brace can hold its strength much longer.
So, why shouldn’t every athlete wear an ankle brace all the time? Well, bracing can be bulky and sometimes uncomfortable, and there simply is not always a need for bracing. The top reasons for bracing are rehabbing from an acute ankle injury, chronic ankle instability (multiple ankle sprains in a short period of time or feelings of instability), and participating in a high-risk sport or activity. Any sport, such as basketball, volleyball, football, and soccer to name a few, that has quick starts and stops, lateral movements, and cutting would qualify as a high-risk sport.
All in all, my best advice would be to wear an ankle brace if there is a good reason to wear one or if you feel more comfortable wearing a brace, while also performing daily ankle strengthening exercises to keep the ankles as strong as possible and decrease the risk of future ankle injuries.
Bryce Paschold, DPM, provides a complete range of foot and ankle services for patients of any age. He is board certified and subspecializes in foot and ankle sports medicine. For any foot or ankle-related problem, no matter how big or small, contact Dr. Paschold at the Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center at 309-663-9300. They are located at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington. Visit their Facebook page, or check out their website at www.sportsenhancement.net.