For years, physicians have been divided on the benefits of knee and ankle braces in preventing injuries to athletes. In recent years, however, more research has been released in support of wearing braces for injury prevention.
One study from University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that high school basketball players who wore stabilizing lace-up ankle braces were 68 percent less likely to suffer an ankle injury than athletes who did not wear braces.
Another study, also by University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, found similar results. Both studies involved randomized, controlled trials of large groups of high school athletes—basketball players in one, football players in the other. In both studies, there was a significant protective benefit in wearing the ankle brace, whether or not the athlete had experienced a previous sprain.
Not only can a significant number of injuries—particularly in teen athletes—be prevented with protective braces, wearing braces would immensely reduce the cost of treating ankle injuries in high school athletes.
It should also be noted that researchers found no negative effects of preventative bracing.
The benefits of knee braces in injury prevention are less clear. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics, knee braces lack sufficient evidence of efficacy in reducing the incidence of severity of ligamentous knee injuries.
What to look for in an ankle brace
The ankle braces studied were lace-up ankle braces, which can be purchased from most major sporting goods stores for about $40. Hard-shell braces may actually provide too much stabilization, which could result in a knee injury.
Ensuring the proper fit is also important. Even the smallest braces may be too big for some young children. An improperly fitting brace could increase the risk of injury.
Who should wear ankle braces?
The more time an athlete spends playing, the greater his or her chance of an injury. While recreational athletes can also benefit from ankle braces to prevent injury, it is recommended that athletes who play regularly wear braces on both ankles.
These recent studies looked at football and basketball players specifically; however, some sports, such as volleyball, require similar movements and pose similar risks of ankle injuries. If the brace limits an athlete’s playing ability, wearing a brace may not be appropriate.
Should braces be worn after injury?
Research shows that ankle braces can help prevent re-injury, but a brace should never take the place of proper rehabilitation from an injury (including physical therapy, if needed). If you or your child has been injured, work with your physician to determine the proper course of treatment and rehab.