It seems that no matter what sport you’re watching or playing nowadays, one of the athletes is likely wearing an ankle brace. The best ankle braces can be an effective precautionary measure for many, since 2 million ankle sprains happen each year.
Ankle braces have been around a long time but started to appear on playing fields more frequently starting in the early 1990s as a result of improved designs and lower costs. Today, they seem to be used everywhere.
This might leave you wondering what ankle braces might do for us and how to use them. After all, you’ve seen ankle braces worn during so many different movement-based activities, from gentle yoga and walking to full-blown, high-intensity sports.
How Ankle Braces Work
First, consider the human body’s structure. Ankle muscles, plus ligaments and and tendons, as well as bones from your foot to your hip, support your ankle internally.
When you wear an ankle brace, it serves as an external support because it limits certain movements, such as plantar flexion/inversion, which is defined as movement at the ankle joint that points the foot forward away from the leg and turns the foot inward.
If you are someone who experiences regular ankle pain from tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, a brace might provide some protection against further injury. Also, the compression can help soothe minor pain.
How Do Ankle Braces Affect Injuries
Current data shows us that ankle brace use in high school-aged athletes lowers the incidence of acute ankle injuries; one study put the relative risk reduction at 47%. Unfortunately, even the best ankle braces can’t reduce the severity of injuries. Still, they can provide awareness of where your ankle joint is in space. To be most effective, braces should fit well while you’re wearing shoes.
Sadly, just because you wear an ankle brace doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to prevent an injury, but it could keep you from re-aggravating an old one. Or if you’re recovering from a mishap, a brace could aid in the rehabilitation process. You may also want to wear one while you’re recovering from ankle surgery, limiting movement and keeping the ankle supported to help with recuperation.
When You Should See A Doctor Instead
Even a seemingly benign ankle injury can cause quite a large amount of pain, so it’s important to know when to head to your doctor. Generally, if you have an open wound or can’t put any weight on your foot, it’s a sure sign you need to head in for treatment.
You should seek medical attention if there’s severe pain or swelling or you see obvious signs of infection: like if your ankle is red, tender, or warm to the touch — or if you have a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, if you have swelling that doesn’t improve after two to five days of home treatment or persistent pain that won’t improve after several weeks, it’s time to get it checked out.
Your physician can determine whether wearing a brace is right for you. The best ankle braces will provide support while also feeling comfortable. Look for either neoprene or knit fabric and make sure it fits properly. Consult the sizing chart listed on the box for best fit and support.