By Dev Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Basketball players are at risk for ankle sprains, knee ACL injury, and general lower extremity injury
- Using lace-up ankle braces and/or performing balance training can reduce the risk of ankle sprains and general lower extremity injury
- Unfortunately, there is no currently proven training method that reduces the risk of ACL injury in basketball players
- Basketball players should strongly consider using lace-up ankle braces for practices and games, and consider balance training programs too
I wrote recently on the effectiveness of the FIFA 11+ program to reduce the incidence of a wide variety of lower extremity injuries in soccer, including ACL tears. That program works for soccer players, coaches should require it.
Does an equivalent program exist to reduce injuries in basketball players? Possible strategies that have been used for basketball players include ankle bracing, ankle taping, balance training, and jump/landing training.
A recent pooled analysis of published studies shows that the results for lowering injury rates in general lower extremity injuries and ankle sprains is very good, but unfortunately the training programs have not shown a reduction in ACL injuries.
Basketball movements place unique demands on the player, including a much higher percentage of vertical movements than soccer players, and higher percentages of lateral movements compared to volleyball. Balance, strength, or neuromuscular education programs would need to account for the specific movements required in basketball. It’s possible that the current ACL training programs for basketball do not fully train the athlete for these movements, future programs might show better results with modifications. It’s also possible that the current studies simply did not study enough athletes to show a statistical difference.
Ankle sprain reduction: braces and balance training work
Several well-designed studies have shown the effectiveness of lace-up ankle braces in reducing incidence of ankle sprains. The effect is particularly strong for an athlete who has had prior sprains, in reducing the chance for yet another sprain. Other studies have shown that using an ankle brace does not ‘weaken’ the ankle. With this in mind, the easiest intervention for a basketball player would be to use a lace up ankle brace for practices and games. If you do happen to get a sprain with a brace on, my feeling is that the sprain is less severe than it would be without a brace.
Other strategies involve balance training. These programs typically involve training a few times per week for 8 to 12 weeks and have also shown effectiveness in reducing the incidence of ankle sprains. The programs have only one drawback: they are only effective if you actually do the training! Some coaches may not want to devote time to the training, and compliance amongst young athletes can be low.
Your best strategy then is to use a lace up ankle brace for sure, and also utilize the balance training programs if possible. It appears that these strategies will certainly lower your risk of ankle sprains, and it doesn’t appear that there are any negative effects from either strategy. We still need good training programs to reduce ACL injury risk though. I have a feeling we are close on that front and need some larger studies to prove effectiveness.
Until then, lace up your ankle brace and have a good season!