According to Tim McGuine, UW Health Sports Medicine researcher, athletic trainer and lead author of the study, “Basketball has one of the highest rates for ankle injuries, and the study illustrates how a simple brace can keep an athlete on the court.”
For parents, the research also supports the purchase of products they’ve been investing in for years — the ankle brace.
“Parents were paying a substantial amount of money for a device that had never been proven effective,” said Alison Brooks, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the UW Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation. “Our results show that the benefits of ankle braces far outweigh the expense.”
To help parents understand what the results mean for their high school athletes, and what they need to know about ankle braces, Dr. Brooks answers some common questions about ankle braces.
DOES MY CHILD NEED TO WEAR AN ANKLE BRACE?
It’s important to note that the age range of the kids in the study was 14 – 18 years old. So the answer is based on that age range.
According to Dr. Brooks, before the study was completed, the answer to that question was yes — if they had a previous injury or sprain. There was good evidence that a brace would prevent an injury from recurring.
The results of the recent study seem to show that every teen should wear an ankle brace to prevent injuries in the first place.
WHAT SHOULD PARENTS LOOK FOR IN A BRACE?
The type of ankle brace used in the study is called a lace-up brace, or semi-rigid brace. These types of braces have an inside part, which laces like a shoe, with outer stirrup straps that wrap in a figure of six. They can cost approximately $30-$40 per brace, and are available in most major sporting goods stores.
While there are hard-shell braces available, they are more rigid and may provide too much immobilization, which may ultimately cause injury in the knees or other lower extremities. There is also some concern that the hard shell braces may prevent athletes from moving properly.
SHOULD ANKLE BRACES BE WORN ON ONE OR BOTH ANKLES?
Because the results of the recent study showed that wearing ankle braces prevented injury, it would make sense to wear them on both ankles.
SHOULD ANKLE BRACES BE WORN BY RECREATIONAL ATHLETES?
According to Dr. Brooks, any teen athlete playing in an organized league such as a church league or YMCA can benefit from wearing ankle braces. However, it’s harder to say whether there’s any benefit if someone is just occasionally playing pick-up game with friends.
Essentially, the more time an athlete plays, the more time they are exposed to potential injury. Therefore, wearing the braces when playing regularly can help.
IS THERE A CERTAIN AGE THAT KIDS OR TEENS SHOULD START WEARING BRACES?
“Our study only evaluated 14-18 year olds – and didn’t look at younger kids,” comments Dr. Brooks. “So, I can’t say definitively. I think as long as there is a size of brace that fits them well, it is probably appropriate.”
Even the smallest brace may be too large to fit younger kids properly. So parents need to ensure the brace fits properly in order to prevent injury.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD ANKLE BRACES BE WORN – JUST GAME DAY OR PRACTICE TOO?
For a sport like basketball, the braces should definitely be worn for both practice and game day. There are more opportunities for injury during practice – athletes are just as likely to roll an ankle, for example – so wearing the braces can help.
HOW SOON AFTER ANKLE INJURY SHOULD BRACES BE WORN?
Dr. Brooks explains that even prior to the study, there was good evidence that wearing an ankle brace decreased the likelihood for re-injury. But she cautions that wearing a brace doesn’t take the place of good rehabilitation and working with a physical therapist. If a teen injures an ankle, once the swelling is down, he or she could wear a brace. But, it’s important to work closely with the physician and therapists to ensure further injury doesn’t occur.
SHOULD ATHLETES IN OTHER SPORTS WEAR BRACES?
The answer to the question depends on the sport. The ankle brace study was repeated in football players with similar results. According to Dr. Brooks, volleyball requires similar movements to basketball, and athletes could likely benefit from wearing the braces. On the other hand, soccer is a more difficult sport to answer definitively. The movements are different and the braces could affect the playing abilities of the athletes, so in that case, braces may not be appropriate. Parents or athletes can talk with their physician or athletic trainer to help determine what is best for them.