Ankle sprains are the most common sports-relates injuries in the United States, accounting for an estimated 12 million injuries per year. These injuries can result in significant time away from games and practices. If there was only an easy way of decreasing the number and severity of these injuries, that would be great. For this very reason, the practice of taping ankles before there was an injury was introduced many decades ago (at least 60 year ago!).
How, then, do taped or braced ankles decrease the incidence and severity of sprains in athletes? One explanation for how it works comes from a study which found that taped athletes had improved proprioception, which is the body’s ability to know where the ankle and foot are, how fast they are moving and if they are starting to roll over or not. When they were compared, the athletes with taped ankles had better proprioception both before and after exercise compared with untapped athletes. The theory is that the traction and/or pressure on the skin of the foot and ankle because of the tape or bracing provided improved sensory input and improved proprioception, resulting in fewer ankle sprains.
In addition to the improved proprioception, ankle braces provide more stability due to the materials in the braces themselves. Each brace provides a certain amount of rigidity. This hard structure can restrain movement into injury-prone positions.
Ankle braces are often used after a cast has been removed, following surgery, with formal physical therapy, and as a method to reduce injury risk. Some specific situations that benefit from the use of an ankle brace include:
- Ankle or other foot fractures
- Ankle sprains
- Chronic, repeated ankle sprains
- Ankle instability (usually due to repeated sprains, but also may be due to arthritis or obesity)
- Poor balance
- Abnormal gait
- In-toeing of the ankle joint
- Achilles tendinopathy
There are several types of ankle braces. Some use straps to provide compression and stability; These are nice alternatives to ankle taping as they can be adjusted to fit more loosely or tightly as needed.
Stirrup braces are often used to support the ankle after a fracture or surgery. Hybrid braces are a combination of the two.
Regardless of the type of brace you choose, ankle braces are helpful tools to help protect your ankle both before an injury occurs and following an ankle injury or surgery.