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Brace Yourself to Prevent Ankle Sprains

Posted on: 11/30/2003
Sports injuries. If you haven't had one yourself, you've probably watched on TV as players were injured on the field. Everyone waits in silence until the player is able to get up and leave. It's the one moment when even opponents applaud the athlete.

One-quarter of those injuries occur at the ankle and foot. So if the athlete is hobbling off the field on one leg, it could very well be a foot or ankle injury. Ankle sprain is the most common ankle injury. Wouldn't it be better to wear an ankle brace and prevent that injury? That's the focus of this study by a group of physical therapists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

First researchers identified people at greatest risk for ankle sprain. They found three groups at risk: people who have sprained their ankles before, military trainees, and athletes. Not all athletes are at increased risk. Risk increases for those who are at higher levels of competition. It's also higher in sports that involve jumping, landing, and cutting from side to side. Soccer and basketball players rank the highest in ankle sprains.

A review of studies already done in this area show that athletes with a previous ankle injury are two to five times more likely to reinjure the ankle. Military personnel in basic training or involved in parachute jumping are at risk. Other risk factors are female gender, exercising on uneven ground, and college level sports (compared to high school).

These researchers also reviewed studies to see if ankle bracing prevents injuries (or reinjuries) from occurring. They found ankle bracing does reduce injuries, especially for anyone who's had a previous ankle sprain.

Finally, what kind of ankle brace works best? Tape, cloth, canvas, or plastic? Should the brace be soft, hard, or semi-rigid? The authors say it may be a matter of trial and error. It's best to find a brace the athlete will wear. If the brace rubs the skin or slows the player down, he or she won't wear it. Softer braces that mold to the ankle may work best.

With the new line of ankle supports coming out, more research is needed to compare which ones work the best for each group of athletes or trainees.

Michael T. Gross, PT, PhD, and Hsin-Yi Liu, PT, MS. The Role of Ankle Bracing for Prevention of Ankle Sprain Injuries. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. October 2003. Vol. 33. No. 10. Pp. 572-577.

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