Ankle Braces Can Reduce The Number Of Ankle Sprains In Football And Basketball

Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Brian Cole, M.D., Head Team Physician, Chicago Bulls, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University, Chicago, IL

Key Points:

  • There is good evidence that lace-up ankle braces will reduce the number of ankle sprains in youth football and basketball
  • Athletes wearing a lace-up brace generally will not notice any decrease in sprint speed or performance
  • We have not seen any harmful effects of wearing the braces, so it makes good sense for youth football and basketball players to wear lace-up braces

basketball rolledankle2_3We see a lot of ankle sprains in our clinical practices, and if they make their way to the orthopedic surgeon’s office it generally means it was a significant injury. Severe ankle sprains can take many weeks to properly heal, can be costly to treat, and can place the athlete at risk for future ankle sprains. What then can we do try reduce the number of ankle sprains, or reduce the severity of an ankle sprain if one does happen?

One simple and cost effective option is to wear a lace-up ankle brace. These braces are effective in stabilizing the ankle in side-to-side and landing movements (the type of movements typically risky for ankle sprains) but allow excellent movement for straight ahead activities such as sprinting and jumping.

Ankle sprains are classified in three grades. A Grade 1 injury is a mild stretching or sprain and generally allows the athlete to return to full play in a couple of weeks. A Grade 2 injury is a partial tearing of the ankle ligaments and can take considerably longer and will often require physical therapy. A Grade 3 injury is a complete tear of the ligament. This severe injury can take months to recover, sometimes needs surgery, and places the athlete at risk for future sprains. If we can prevent ankle sprains, or at least reduce the number of Grade 3 injuries it will be a big benefit for the young athlete.

We have two high quality clinical studies showing the effectiveness of lace-up ankle bracing to reduce the number of ankle sprains in football and basketball. Both of these studies, by author Timothy McGuine, were published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011 and 2012. The authors tested the effectiveness of a lace-up ankle brace and injury rates in high school basketball and football players.

The results of the two studies were remarkably similar. In one study, comprised of 1,460 male and female high school basketball players, the rate of acute ankle injury was 0.47 in the braced group and 1.41 in the control (non-braced) group. In the other study, which included 2,081 male high school football players, the rate of acute ankle injury was 0.48 in the braced group and 1.12 in the control group.

In other words, using a lace-up ankle brace reduced the incidence of acute ankle injuries threefold in basketball and more than twofold in football. Also, the studies concluded there was no increased risk of knee injuries associated with wearing an ankle brace.

From our perspective it makes a lot of sense for young football and basketball players to wear lace-up ankle braces. Players tell us there is no negative effect on performance and the science shows the number of sprains can be significantly reduced. No ankle brace can completely eliminate all ankle sprains but in our experience they definitely make a difference. They are simple to put on, inexpensive, and can be used over and over. As you are finishing up football season or starting basketball season take a look at lace-up ankle braces. Your ankles will thank you for it.