Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
Brian Cole, M.D.
Head Team Physician Chicago Bulls
Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University, Chicago, IL
• There is good evidence that lace-up ankle braces will reduce the number of ankle sprains in first time and recurring ankle sprains
• Athletes wearing a lace-up brace generally will not notice any decrease in sprint speed or performance
• We have not seen any harmful effects of wearing the braces, so it makes good sense for players in basketball, volleyball, football, and soccer to wear lace-up braces
We see a lot of ankle sprains in our clinical practices, and if they make their way to the orthopedic surgeon’s office it generally means it was a significant injury. Severe ankle sprains can take many weeks to properly heal, can be costly to treat, and can place the athlete at risk for future ankle sprains. What then can we do try reduce the number of ankle sprains, or reduce the severity of an ankle sprain if one does happen?
One simple and cost effective option is to wear a lace-up ankle brace. These braces are effective in stabilizing the ankle in side-to-side and landing movements (the type of movements typically risky for ankle sprains) but allow excellent movement for straight ahead activities such as sprinting and jumping.
Ankle sprains are classified in three grades. A Grade 1 injury is a mild stretching or sprain and generally allows the athlete to return to full play in a couple of weeks. A Grade 2 injury is a partial tearing of the ankle ligaments and can take considerably longer and will often require physical therapy. A Grade 3 injury is a complete tear of the ligament. This severe injury can take months to recover, sometimes needs surgery, and places the athlete at risk for future sprains. If we can prevent ankle sprains, or at least reduce the number of Grade 3 injuries it will be a big benefit for the young athlete.
We searched the published medical literature for any new evidence surrounding this topic. A recent review article shows that there remains very good evidence supporting the use of ankle braces in athletes with a history of prior ankle sprains. A lace-up brace can reduce the severity if another sprain occurs, and also reduces the number of recurrent ankle sprains.
What has been less clear is whether an ankle brace can prevent an ankle sprain in someone who’s never had one. The authors of the review article found five good quality medical studies. The newly available pooled results showed a 47% reduction in the rate of ankle sprains for athletes with no prior history of sprains who used a lace-up brace compared to athletes not using any brace.
From our perspective it makes a lot of sense for athletes in high risk sports such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, and football to wear lace-up ankle braces. Players tell us there is no negative effect on performance and the science shows the number of sprains can be significantly reduced. No ankle brace can completely eliminate all ankle sprains but in our experience they definitely make a difference. They are simple to put on, inexpensive, and can be used over and over. As you are finishing up football season or starting basketball season take a look at lace-up ankle braces. Your ankles will thank you for it.