An ankle injury is undoubtedly one of the worst experiences for a volleyball player. There is nothing scarier than an ankle injury while playing your favorite game. As a remedy against this potential threat, many people recommend wearing ankle braces while playing volleyball. The question is, should you?
If a volleyball player has ever experienced an ankle injury or is concerned for their safety, they should consider wearing an ankle brace. There are pros and cons to wearing an ankle brace, and all players should consult with a doctor or certified athletic trainer before deciding.
My purpose in writing this article is to help other volleyball players make an informed decision about whether they should wear ankle braces during the game. Below, I'll answer a series of questions about this piece of equipment, from its pros and cons to where you most need one.
Before going in, I want to make sure we have a common understanding of what an ankle brace is made of. An ankle brace is a device or garment worn around the ankle to protect and immobilize the ankle from sprains or other injuries. From recovery and everyday use to sports and other physical activities, there are tons of ankle braces available for many different situations.
Ankle braces are worn by volleyball players during games not for fixation, but to protect and limit the ankle's unwanted range of motion. These braces are usually made from a combination of metal, plastic and fabric. They are specially assembled to provide as much support and protection as possible.
Why wear ankle braces?
Before making any decisions about your safety, I strongly recommend that you discuss this with a professional athletic trainer or your doctor. When it comes to your health, it's important to note that no two conditions are the same. In this article, my purpose is to help you gather the information you need to make an informed decision about the safety of your volleyball players.
Given how common ankle injuries are in volleyball, some players and coaches will recommend wearing an ankle brace as a simple preventative measure. The game of volleyball naturally requires players to jump a lot, which unfortunately often results in players having to fall into awkward and difficult positions. Because of these risks, many players choose to wear ankle braces as a precaution.
In terms of research, many people say that wearing preventive braces, that is, for preventive purposes, often helps reduce the number of accidents. A prospective study of the effects of lace-up ankle braces in high school basketball players determined that braces reduced the incidence, but not the severity, of acute ankle injuries with or without a history of ankle injury. This study appears to suggest that wearing a tethered brace can help reduce the risk of injury. The same study also noted that if the injury still occurred, wearing a brace did not reduce the severity of the injury.
Another 2008 study collected injury data on all women's volleyball players at the authors' institution from 1998 to 2005, all of whom were required to wear ankle braces as a precaution. The researchers then compared the agency's data with all NCAA injury reports for that year. The data collected clearly showed that, by contrast, wearing a brace significantly reduced the incidence of ankle injuries. Based on their observations, the study concluded that wearing an ankle brace is "an effective way to reduce the incidence of ankle injuries in this active but vulnerable group of athletes."
But wait, there's more! My last piece of evidence is a 2018 meta-analysis that included 6 randomized controlled trials comparing ankle braces with no intervention in athletes. In their conclusions, the researchers stated that "ankle bracing is effective for primary and secondary prevention of acute ankle injuries in athletes".
A prospective study conducted in the Netherlands in 2002 observed 486 volleyball players from two competitive divisions during one season. A total of 100 people have been injured this season. The study found that 41 percent of all reported volleyball-related injuries were attributed to ankle injuries.
Let's not whitewash it, ankle injuries are the most common type of injury in volleyball. Not only that, but the same study mentioned above also found that 75% of all players who suffered an ankle sprain had experienced an ankle injury. Therefore, the study concluded that prior injury was a key risk factor.
Unfortunately, ankle sprains and other more serious ankle injuries do take their toll on the ligaments and structures of the foot and ankle. A torn or stretched ligament or tendon takes time to heal until it is fully back to normal. It is critical that these elements are properly protected before full healing. If you have recently experienced an ankle injury and are wondering how long the recovery period will take, I encourage you to discuss your specific situation with your doctor or physical therapist.
A previous injury can weaken the structure of the ankle for a period of time. That being said, these aren't the only elements in the body that help make it strong and resist ankle sprains. Without further ado, it's important to know that many areas of the lower body contribute to ankle stability. Body parts such as the hips, knees, calves, hips, and other muscles are all elements that affect ankle stability.
In the end, a history of ankle injuries only makes you more prone to new incidents. While it's not your only option, wearing an ankle brace can and will help reduce the risk of recurring ankle injuries.
For a more detailed and interesting explanation of this topic, I highly recommend watching the video below, it really helped me understand the nuances of ankle injury and recovery.
Recovering from an ankle injury
We've all been there. Injured but desperate to get back to sports and volleyball as soon as possible. Fortunately, ankle braces can help with the recovery process. The 6-week period after an ankle injury is considered when your ankle is at its weakest, and some braces are designed to help in this situation.
As I explained above, your ankles are more likely to feel weak and out of balance when running or jumping in recovery mode. Without a brace, weaker ankles are at greater risk for repetitive injuries. It is for these reasons that a brace is often recommended until the ankle is stable and the player feels strong and confident.
high risk positions
We know that ankle injuries occur more often where and when there is a lot of potential risk. With this in mind, it's reasonable to conclude that the volleyball positions that are most prone to ankle injuries are those that primarily play on the net and jump for a smash or block. That said, these positions are usually center blockers and perimeter hitters. I've listed all the volleyball positions below for the least chance of an ankle injury most likely to occur while playing volleyball.
- intermediate blocker
- outside hitter
Mid-blockers find themselves the ones who most often want to wear ankle braces because of more jumps. If you play in these high-risk positions, and you have a history of chronic ankle injuries, or are just concerned about potential injuries, wearing an ankle brace might be a good idea for you.
The psychology of wearing ankle braces
Some athletic trainers do believe that some athletes exhibit a subtle psychological effect when wearing ankle braces. The effect appears to be mostly seen in players with previous ankle injuries. For these players, wearing the brace appeared to result in a small improvement in performance, which could be explained by the confidence and peace of mind they gained from knowing they were less likely to get injured while wearing the brace. This might be a valid theory, although I haven't found any conclusive research to prove or confirm this performance improvement.
What are the most common causes of ankle injuries in volleyball?
It is crucial to understand the common injuries in sports. Knowing what to expect can help you better prepare and train accordingly. Anyone who has spent time in the volleyball world will conclude that ankle injuries are all too common in the sport. Specifically, the most common form of ankle injury while playing volleyball occurs when jumping the net, either on offense or blocking.
The most common incident that leads to an injury occurs when a player accidentally steps on an opponent's foot and loses balance, usually resulting in a sprained ankle or worse. The best way to avoid this is to train yourself to be more aware of how and where to land after jumping the net. Volleyball already has rules that a player's feet cannot cross the centerline under the net, and for good reason, including reducing the risk of injury. Some more experienced coaches develop the habit of training players to think and avoid the midline. In fact, some coaches also believe that players who keep their feet away from the free throw line are more likely to make better game decisions at the net.
Generally speaking, the main cause of these injuries is simple, the more you jump, run, and dive, the more exposed your ankle is at risk. Each exposure increases the likelihood of injury. Fortunately, ankle braces and/or other prevention methods can help reduce the risk of ankle injury.
Should you wear an ankle brace if you haven't been injured before?
When it comes to preventing ankle injuries, there's no denying that braces have a high success rate. Even so, I believe most players would rather not wear a brace if given the choice. For most players with no previous history of ankle injuries, it may be realistic to avoid ankle braces altogether. However, I strongly encourage all players who choose to go this route to find other ways to protect themselves from ankle injuries. There are many other methods available that will also yield good results.
Among the best alternatives to wearing a brace are training and strengthening the body. As mentioned earlier, there are ways to make your body stronger and better able to handle situations that can lead to ankle injuries. There are also studies showing that proprioceptive training or stretching can be effective in reducing the incidence of ankle sprains, including those with a history of ankle sprains. If you want some examples of exercises that can strengthen your ankle, consider watching the first video above or the other videos below.
Do ankle braces affect performance?
Inevitably, we must address the impact on performance. Many studies have looked at this question in great detail. In general, all types of braces appear to have similar effects on performance across all categories. For all practical matters, volleyball players should understand that certain types of braces perform worse in some categories and better in others, but the overall impact of each type is similar.
Most studies on this topic report that athletes wearing ankle braces observe little or no effects on vertical jump height, running speed, agility, and long jump form. The category that seems to be most affected is vertical jump height. A volleyball-specific study concluded that wearing a brace affects jumping performance by approximately 2-3%. Another study observed that wearing a brace reduced the average vertical jump height of high-level athletes by about 2 cm. For most players it will be a very small impact, but for players at the top and professionals, every centimeter makes a difference.
So what should we conclude? When considering whether to wear an ankle brace, I would say that unless you are in the top 1% of athletes in your sport, the preventive ability of wearing an ankle brace is usually worth the impact on athletic performance. If this performance impact worries you, you may want to consider finding an alternative to an ankle brace that doesn't have the same impact. Safety or performance, it's your choice.
Do ankle braces weaken your ankles?
There is a common misconception that wearing a brace will weaken your ankle, making it more prone to re-injury. This is completely wrong and a misleading understanding of the human body. One study investigated the effects of long-term ankle support and showed that wearing the support had no effect on the strength of a key muscle group involved in ankle stability. The study looked specifically at the peroneus longus muscle, an important stabilizer that prevents ankle inversion, and had no effect on its strength after months of bracing.
Now, a common basis behind claims that ankle braces weaken the ankle comes from the feeling of weakness that occurs when someone stops using their ankle brace. Fortunately, that's all, a feeling. Problematic sensations refer to proprioception and lack of awareness of body position and movement. A good remedy is proper and progressive proprioceptive training. For more information on proprioceptive training, I encourage you to watch the video shown above in this article.
Because of the aforementioned frailty, some coaches and physical therapists see ankle braces as some sort of crutch that players will rely on. The analogy is only somewhat accurate. When you put on a brace or use a cane, your body learns to move under the new support. Over time, the body and muscle memory will learn to rely on this support. Performing movements that require your ankles may make you feel less stable after removing the brace's support because your body simply isn't used to it. However, this is largely speculative, as some studies have shown that ankle braces have no effect on proprioceptive acuity in athletes with recurrent ankle sprains.
Can Ankle Braces Cause Knee Injuries?
A common question about wearing an ankle brace is that it can actually cause knee injuries. Fortunately, this claim is unfounded, as no clinical studies appear to support this conclusion. However, some have observed that the knee is sometimes subjected to some additional force and torque during many lateral movements with the ankle brace. In general, these studies concluded that knee injuries from wearing ankle braces require special circumstances. Note that for players with a history of knee injuries, the added force/torque associated with wearing an ankle brace may cause some discomfort or, in extreme cases, aggravate the knee injury.
Should you wear an ankle brace on game day and in practice?
Play as you play, play as you go. If you're considering wearing a brace for competition, you should also wear it when you practice. Volleyball training should be as demanding and intense as the game scene, if not more. Also, the more you play while wearing the stand, the more you will understand the limits of the stand and play comfortably in it. While most injuries occurred during training, players were still three times as likely to be injured in games. So if you plan to wear a brace for prophylaxis or prophylaxis, wear it during game time and practice.
Should you wear an ankle brace on each foot?
Research has not shown that wearing an ankle brace alone has an effect on balance and strength in either ankle. Wearing the brace on one side won't make a big difference to the other. Athletes of all levels have successfully competed with a brace throughout the season without any issues. That being said, some athletes will prefer to wear two braces for their own comfort. Finally, do you feel comfortable? This is the question you should ask yourself.