Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports-related injuries in the United States, with an estimated two million injuries annually according to statistics. When this happens, it leads the athlete to refrain from games and practices to let the injured ankle heal properly, which takes a significant period of time.
A practical method of decreasing the number and severity of ankle sprains is a great help – therefore the concept of preventative ankle wrapping was introduced more than 60 years ago. As time goes by, ankle braces are also being developed to further enhance the healing process from ankle sprains.
Given its name, ankle braces are a medical garment worn around the ankle to give this part of the person’s foot protection by immobilizing the joint and providing heat and compression to the bones, while allowing it to heal. They are commonly used in injury rehabilitation processes. To ensure fit and fixation, the foot may need adhering, and in severe cases, they need a metallic plate to better immobilize the joint.
The most current evidence reveals that the use of ankle braces, as recommended by certified athletic trainers or licensed physicians, has decreased the number of initial ankle injuries and re-injuries, as well as reducing the severity of ankle injuries and future risk.
Bracing or taping processes protect the ankle by restraining lateral motion and proprioceptive feedback. Studies have shown favorable results for both bracing and taping due to its effectiveness in the healing process.
Sports which may have caused the ankle injury include volleyball, basketball, soccer, running or tennis. There are braces available which specifically help you continue these sports, or there are general products which cater towards the specific injury, whether it be a sprain or something more serious.
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- 1 Conditions That Typically Require An Ankle Brace
- 2 How To Properly Use Ankle Braces
- 3 Types Of Ankle Braces
Conditions That Typically Require An Ankle Brace
There are two possible needs for the continual use of ankle brace: a high ankle sprain or a knee injury. According to the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society, a high ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments above the ankle that connect the tibia to the fibula.
The injury usually happens from twisting and rotating the foot while the ankle is held in position and unable to move freely. Rather than the ankle rolling at the joint, the entire foot twists, which ends up tearing the high-ankle ligaments.
Basketball players and running athletes are the most prone to a condition called Achilles Tendonitis, as the Achilles tendon connects the heel bone to the calf muscles. This tendon is used especially during jumping and running. It becomes overused by this constant and repetitive motion, and therefore, it becomes inflamed.
Ankle sprains are the most common foot injury not just in sports, but even for non-athletic people as well. They can occur simply by steady walking, so don’t necessarily require demanding action.
When this happens, the foot goes into an unnatural movement and causes the ligaments to tear or stretch which results in pain and inflammation. Ligament damage ranges anywhere from a stretch or tears to a complete rupture.
Chronic Ankle Instability
Chronic ankle instability happens when the outer side of the ankle feels like it is going to give out, and the ankle itself just generally feels unstable. This occurs when the patient has an ankle sprain that has not healed correctly and develops after multiple sprains. A brace is highly needed for additional support and to keep the ankle from turning.
Ankle Stress Fractures
Stress Fractures are tiny cracks in the bones which result from the overuse of tired muscles. When a person has ankle stress fractures, the muscles are no longer able to absorb the shock from the stress of repetitive impact. The bones try to kick in to absorb the sudden effect, but this process causes the bones to crack which results in pain, swelling, and tenderness.
The Plantar Fascia is a tissue that runs from the front of the foot to the heel. A quick cut on the court for athletes or an unnatural landing for normal people can cause this tissue to become inflamed.
A common misunderstanding is that the ankle brace will slow or decrease performance. However, there is minimal to no effect on activity. A properly applied ankle brace ensures the best performance with the protection necessary for a return to action following an ankle injury or to prevent re-injury. When combined with shoe insoles, it could help recovery from an injury and prevent ankle instability.
How To Properly Use Ankle Braces
Before applying the brace to your injured ankle, make sure to read the instructions from the manufacturer as it varies depending on the type of ankle brace that is recommended for you. Correct application is vital for the medical brace to function properly. Some ankle braces are designed for single patient use only.
Below are the general steps on how to wear ankle braces:
- Before application, loosen all straps and laces. Insert foot into the boot portion of the brace and make sure the tongue resides on the top of your foot between your skin and the lacing. Secure lacing while seated and maintaining your ankle at a 90-degree angle, or the angle at which has been recommended by a doctor. Feed the lacing through all eyelets and tighten.
- Bring the inside (medial) stabilizing strap forward across the top of the foot and under the heel. Secure the stabilizing strap to the opposite side of the ankle using the loops provided, if necessary. Repeat this process for the outside (lateral) strap.
- Once both straps are secured, ensure optimum performance and support by tensioning both straps at the same time while seated. Use the finger loops, and pull them up and away firmly on both straps, then re-apply straps to the side of the brace.
- Secure the brace with the elastic cuff closure over the tied laces and secured medial and lateral straps. Periodic adjustment to the tension of the brace may be necessary depending on your level of activity.
To take care of the ankle brace while not in use, wash by hand using mild soap and lukewarm water, rinsing it thoroughly before air drying. Don’t forget to check regularly for holes, cracks, and excessive wear-and-tear, and replace any broken or damaged pieces when necessary. Never wear ankle braces over an open wound!
Also, if you experience any increased pain, swelling or any unusual reactions while wearing the brace, consult your attending physician immediately. But do bear in mind that due to the pressure, slight pain for a few days could be natural.
Types Of Ankle Braces
Also known either as neoprene or elastic compression braces, they are used to aid the treatment of mild ankle sprains and tendinitis. Elastic braces consist of a lightweight, stretchable material and provide the ankle joint with compressive support. Compression enhances joint support and balance, while still allowing the ankle to create motion necessary for daily functions and sports activities.
Benefits of wearing compression braces include maintaining warmth around ankle joint and decreasing muscle stiffness and associated discomfort during activity. Warmth is needed to keep your blood flowing at the best rate to help the healing process. They also provide pressure, which reduces swelling associated with injury. Compression braces fit easily by measuring either ankle joint size or shoe size, providing a universal fit for either the right or the left ankle.
- Lace-up braces are one of the most common types of semi-rigid ankle braces. They are used for mild to moderate ankle sprains and for the prevention of repeat ankle sprains that occur with activity. Lace-up braces are designed to limit the ankle from rolling side to side as well as the up and down ankle motion, theoretically providing full ankle support.
The benefits of lace-up braces include the combination of durability with a comfortable, lightweight feel; therefore, providing more support than the compression brace and fits in most shoes. Likewise, they are also universally fit for either the right or the left ankle.
- Hinged braces, meanwhile, are another type of semi-rigid brace. These braces are designed to prevent rolling the ankle from side to side without affecting the up and down motion of the ankle. They have padded sides for increased comfort and either one or two Velcro straps for quick adjustment and easy on and off application.
Hinged braces provide increased side-to-side support in comparison to the lace-up brace and also designed to fit in most shoes. They are constructed to fit the contour of the right or the left ankle.
Rigid stirrup ankle support brace
The rigid stirrup ankle support is perhaps the most widely used brace in sports today, due to its effectiveness and versatility in treating ankle sprains, stress fractures, and (chronic) repetitive ankle sprains. It is made of a hard plastic shell that extends up both sides of the ankle and is strapped into place with easily adjustable Velcro straps.
The rigid brace provides more side to side support than the semi-rigid braces; however, they may be difficult to fit in some shoes. After the ankle heals, a more functional lace-up ankle brace is recommended to prevent further injury. The benefits of rigid braces include increased side to side support compared to the semi-rigid brace and provide compression which reduces swelling associated.
It’s important always to be proactive about your ankle injury prevention. If you are an active athlete, make sure your training program includes exercises that mobilize your ankles and strengthen your knees as well so they function properly and minimize your risk of injury. If you do happen to suffer an ankle or knee injury, always remember that using an ankle brace/support or tape only serves as a temporary solution. They should be used solely during the initial phase of your recovery unless advised by your attending physician.