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As the former president of Active Ankle® and current president of Ultra Ankle®, I’ve been designing, developing and advancing ankle bracing technology for over 35 years. In my experience of designing ankle braces, there is one thing I am sure of: there is a lot of misinformation being circulated about ankle braces and their effect on the body and athletic performance. Here is a breakdown of the most popular myths I commonly hear about ankle braces and what my answers to those questions as a certified athletic trainer are:
Won’t Wearing Ankle Braces Weaken Your Ankles?
For the most part no, wearing ankle braces for an extended period of time will not weaken the ankle. There are no clinical studies available that support the notion that wearing ankle braces weaken the ankle. That being said I like to provide my personal opinion based on the specific type of ankle brace being worn.
A hinged style ankle brace that allows full up and down ankle range of motion will not weaken the joint because the brace is allowing unrestricted natural ankle motion. Hinged style ankle braces move with the ankle joint, and not against it, to protect the ankle from twisting and turning while still allowing for full natural range of motion.
However, a lace-up style ankle brace restricts all ankle range of motion, even up and down movements. This up and down natural ankle range of motion is not a cause of ankle injuries so there is no need to restrict it. One could argue that by restricting normal ankle range of motion you could potentially weaken the ankle, so it’s important to compare different ankle braces and choose the one that is best for your specific situation.
Doesn’t Wearing Ankle Braces Cause Knee Injuries?
Like weakening the ankle, there are no clinical studies available that support the idea that wearing an ankle brace causes knee injuries. I know, a friend of yours knew an athlete on his high school team that blew out his knee because he was wearing an ankle brace. There is nothing to say that same injury would have not occurred if he wasn’t wearing an ankle brace. In order to transfer enough torque from the ankle to the knee you would need to wear something like a ski boot, which offers virtually zero ankle mobility at all.
My Friend Says Wearing Ankle Braces Hurts Performance – Are They Correct?
Yes, wearing lace-up style ankle supports does hurt athletic performance. A recent study by the University of South Alabama concluded that wearing a lace-up ankle brace negatively affective ankle joint motion and muscle function. In other words, wearing a lace-up ankle brace reduced ankle range of motion and muscle strength in athletes thus reducing the level at which they could effectively perform. I recommend that athletes that are looking to perform at a maximum level while wearing ankle braces wear a hinged or hinged-cuff ankle brace to allow for full, natural range of motion while providing protection against twisting and turning.
Aren’t You Only Supposed to Wear an Ankle Brace After an Injury?
Yes and no. Athletes that play sports with a high incidence of ankle injuries like volleyball andbasketball should wear preventative ankle bracing since there are many situations during a game where ankle injuries cannot be prevented regardless of ankle strength or athletic ability. With these sports it’s not “if” the injury will occur but “when” it will occur – think coming down on another player’s foot after jumping for a block or a rebound.
However, in other sports with less ankle injuries it’s not absolutely necessary to wear preventative ankle bracing. In those cases, it would be important to look into ankle bracing after an injury since70% of athletes who sprain their ankle end up re-spraining that same ankle causing further damage to ankle ligaments.
Lace-Up Ankle Braces Provide the Most Support Since They’re Tighter, Right?
No, in fact lace-up style ankle braces provide the least amount of ankle support. Lace-up bracesrestrict all ankle range of motion so the moment the athlete steps on the court and starts to play, their normal ankle motion is working against the lace-up brace causing it to lose support rapidly. Just because the lace-up, or tie-up, ankle brace feels tight around the ankle at first doesn’t mean it’s providing the highest level of protection.