Ankles are particularly fragile and often sprained. Therefore, many athletes wear ankle braces to prevent injuries, but this can lead to knee injuries. Some research suggests that bracing the ankle may put more stress on the joint proximal to the ankle (on the leg). Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to predict who is at risk for a knee injury when participating in sporting events that involve running, cutting, jumping and changing direction at top speed. If it wears down the ankle joint, it's important to strengthen the thigh muscles and learn proper techniques to help avoid injury.
When someone carries weight and moves in space, the entire leg is affected. Movement of the hip affects the knee, and movement of the knee affects the ankle. Vice versa, adding additional artificial stability to a joint may predispose other joints to injury. Recent findings suggest that ankle braces may place additional stress on the knee joint due to increased tissue loading rates and additional hip motion.
Tissue load is the rate at which the soft tissues of a joint must absorb movement forces during activity. The faster the tissue responds to exercise force, the greater the chance of injury because the tissue has less time to adapt to the load. When artificial support is added to the ankle in the form of a brace, the soft tissues of the knee are exposed to more stress during high-energy activities.
Research has shown that when wearing an ankle brace during high-intensity activities, especially when landing after a mid-air jump, the hip joint moves into an adducted position more frequently. Adduction motions result in increased valgus torque on the same knee. This has been shown to increase the likelihood of tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Athletes wearing ankle braces must be aware of this possibility and try to prevent movement from occurring. The ability to control hip movement begins with proper strength training of the hip external rotators and the main extensors, the gluteus maximus.
In some studies, the amount of knee valgus movement was reduced when the ankle brace was worn and test subjects performed "drop" landing jumps. When test subjects perform this type of landing, they are actually walking off an elevated platform and "falling" vertically to the ground. Unfortunately, most sports are angled rather than perfectly vertical. When testing non-vertical jumps, with the hips adducted and the knees moved into a valgus orientation, it seems that the muscles that control the hips and knees are not strong enough or trained well enough to control the movement of the knees.
Many athletes have no choice when it comes to wearing an ankle brace because their team's healthcare workers need it. More research must be done before conclusive conclusions can be drawn on the efficacy of using prophylactic ankle braces, as they may lead to further injuries to the joints of the legs.
Why Should You Care About Ankle Support?
Ankle health is vital to maintaining mobility. Your feet and ankles provide the foundation for standing and leverage when walking or running. The ligaments, muscles, tendons, and bones of the ankle form the internal support to keep the ankle supported and secure. These internal supports are the vital link that connects everything from your feet to your hips.
Along with other body parts, your ankles are responsible for balance, strength, range of motion, and endurance. When your ankle weakens, you're more likely to experience instability, pain, and repeated injuries.
Ankle disease can be caused by damage to muscles, soft tissues or bones. Some common ankle disorders include:
- Fractures (Bone Injuries)
- Sprain (ligament injury)
- Arthritis (chronic inflammation of the joints)
- Tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon)
Tips for getting better ankle support
Now that you know how important ankle support is to your health, here are some tips on how to best support your ankle:
Stretching allows your muscles and tendons to work properly without putting too much stress on your feet and ankles. It encourages joint mobility and allows your foot and ankle to better adapt to the uneven or unexpected terrain you walk on. This is especially important when ankle support is weak. Three stretches that are good for the ankle include:
Ankle Circles - Sit down and slowly turn your ankles, alternating directions. Ankle loops help with range of motion.
Standing Calf Stretch - Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of you. With your feet closest to the wall, point your toes up and place them on the wall with your heels on the ground. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Standing calf stretches help stretch the calf and Achilles tendon.
Towel Stretch - Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Wrap the toes of your feet with a towel. Hold the towel in both hands and gently pull back until you feel a stretch in the soles of your feet and lower back. Towel stretching aids flexibility and range of motion.
2. Use the ankle brace
Ankle braces work well to support weak ankles. They lock the joints, and if your ankle is weak from an injury, they can limit movement during recovery. However, if you wear an ankle brace every day as ankle support and to prevent injury, you are likely to weaken your ankle.
Over time, your ankle relies on micro-movements to build strength, and when those movements are limited, your ankle cannot improve itself. Ankle braces are best used for short periods of time and only to repair injuries, not prevent them. You may also need to find specific shoes that fit your ankle brace size.
3. Tape your ankle
Ankle tapes are often used for injury prevention, but like ankle braces, they have similar drawbacks. An ankle brace that supports the ankle in a rigid manner, a lack of flexibility can cause the joint to weaken over time. Ankle tape also requires a certain level of expertise to apply, as the support you get depends on the tape pattern.
However, if you need extra foot and ankle support for walking or running on uneven terrain, ankle tape is a great solution. It's also more practical than wearing an ankle brace because you can still wear regular shoes.
4. Wear compression socks
Compression socks are an excellent choice for ankle support because they can be used for injury prevention and injury recovery. Compression socks mimic ankle tape in that they provide extra support, but they have the advantage that they are not as rigid as ankle tape, so they strengthen the ligaments and muscles of the ankle instead of restricting mobility and strength.
Both ankle braces and ankle tapes have advantages and disadvantages. In general, both have been successful in reducing the number and severity of ankle sprains. What really matters is that the athlete has access to an Accredited Athletic Coach (ATC) or the correct brace that will drive the best results in preventing ankle injuries. So, which is the best?
The advantages of using ankle tape are the personalized treatment of an expert and the low profile of the tape. Tapes are best applied by ATC prior to the event and can be reapplied as needed. Ankle tape can fit every athlete and every injury. For example, lateral, medial, and conjoined sprains can be addressed with different taping modalities. Tapes can also be layered differently to address injury prevention or to address specific injury conditions. The strappy ankle fits easily into shoes, ski boots or hockey boots. Effective ankle ties are most commonly found in large high schools with larger budgets,
The main disadvantages of ankle tape are the technique with which the ATC uses the tape, the athlete's route of exposure to the ATC, and the length of time the tape remains effective. The art of applying ankle tape varies depending on the skill of the ATC. Occasionally, the number of athletes requiring recording far exceeds the ATC available. This can cause the tape to be applied too hastily, or it can cause the tape to be applied a few hours before the game. Personal ATC is not available to most inexperienced athletes and athletes in high school,
The advantages of using an ankle brace include brace application and reapplication, availability of different braces, and overall cost. Most athletes, family members or coaches can use and tighten the ankle brace during practice and competition. Different styles of ankle braces provide different degrees of protection. Simple ankle sleeves warm the ankle, increase joint position awareness and provide low-level protection. Lace-up or Velcro straps provide greater stability and are the straps most athletes use. Finally, hard clamshell braces provide additional stability and are most often used after a serious injury or fracture.
The disadvantages of using an ankle brace are the choice of brace, the choice of tightening or repositioning the brace (at the athlete's discretion), and the fit of the ankle brace in the shoe. Athletes must select the correct type of brace based on injury or prevention strategies. If the brace is loose, the athlete may not remember to adjust or reposition the brace. Finally, braces are more bulky than tape, and some people wear shoes on them. Ankle braces are not suitable for hockey or ski boots.
Ankle tape is a good option if the athlete has access to an ATC that can provide personal care before a game or training session. It is critical to reapply the tape as needed to ensure a snug fit. If an athlete does not have these resources or opportunities, a lace-up brace is a good ankle injury prevention program. In conclusion, the ankle should be taped or braced to help reduce injuries and improve performance. At the end of the day, it's an athlete's choice, and when used properly, both can protect the ankle.