Brittney Lang MS, ATC
We are officially into basketball season and with that comes the great possibility for ankle injuries. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in sports. For those that may have had multiple sprained ankles or ankle instability the use of an ankle brace may be beneficial to help with decreasing future injuries. The question is which one is best?
There are a few different main types of braces; Soft, semi-rigid and rigid. The type of ankle injury will help in determining what type of brace may be better for you.
Soft braces/supports - tend be an elastic or neoprene material and are used for mild support and to help keep the joint and ligaments and muscles warm. This can aid in helping to keep the ankle from stiffening up during activity. They also provide compression for swelling and discomfort. They are fairly inexpensive and can be found at most stores that have a pharmacy section.
Semi-rigid braces - can be broken down into two types: lace-up and hinged:
Lace-up styles have been around for many years and highly recommended by physicians and other healthcare professionals for mild to moderate support. These are the most common braces used. They can be purchased at most sports equipment stores as well as at pharmacy stores. They tend to be less expensive than other types of braces. The lace up version is usually made of a strong material and is laced up like a shoe. They can have some extra rigid supports placed on the sides for lateral and medial support. Some lace-ups now also have extra velcro straps to create figure-eight and heel locks for support to mimic techniques used with ankle tapings. They tend to be lightweight for the athletes and can fit in most shoes.
Hinged braces are a more recent style design and are recommended for moderate support. They help prevent the ankle from rolling from side to side but still allow the ankle to move up and down. The brace has two semi rigid sides some with extra padding for comfort and a couple velcro straps that wrap around to secure the brace. They can be a little more expensive depending on type and style. Most are designed to fit into the shoe as well. They can also be made to fit the ankle better with a more custom fit. The hinged braces hold up better compared to the their lace-up counter contender.
Rigid braces - are a stir-up style brace with hard plastic sides and velcro straps to wrap around for a more secure custom fit. They tend to have padding and some can be filled with air for better comfort and support. These are more for post injury and are not used when playing sports but do aid with the healing process. They are used for moderate to high support. Like a hinged brace they reduce side to side movement with allowing the ankle to move up and down. They tend not to fit in shoes very well so once ankle injury has healed then a more fitted brace may be recommended to help with prevention of future ankle injuries.
It is necessary to check fit and comfort and support when choosing the type of brace that is necessary for one’s injury. It is good to put the brace on and walk around with it and put on the shoe that you will plan on wearing while wearing the brace. If it does not feel good when wearing it then the athlete will not want to use it.
There are many brands and styles for the types of braces listed above and it can be overwhelming for athletes to choose one that is right for them. We as healthcare professionals can give them all necessary facts and recommendation to help with making a decision. Though ankle braces can give support and help with injuries they cannot prevent them completely. We should also help with proper treatments and rehabilitation programs that can benefit the athlete even more.