As an athletic trainer I attend numerous sporting events and the number one question I get from parents, coaches, and athletes is “Do ankle braces weaken the ankle?” In some sports with a very high incidence of ankle injuries such as volleyball, basketball, and football many players wear ankle braces every game and practice to help prevent ankle sprains or lessen the severity should an injury occur. By wearing ankle braces on both ankles throughout an entire season, it makes sense that parents, coaches, and players would wonder if there was any negative impact on ankle strength.
I have over 30 years of experience in athletic training and hold over 15 patents in ankle brace design and there are only two ways I know of to weaken a joint and the muscles that support it:
1) By not using the joint – This is usually the case after a surgery when the muscles atrophy from non-use.
2) By restricting normal joint range of motion – If you restrict or bind-up a joint where it can’t move through a full range of motion muscle weakening may occur.
Since most athletes will be using their joints often and strengthening them through various drills and conditioning exercises, their main concern should be with restricting normal joint range of motion and therefore potentially weakening the ankle.
So the question is, are there any ankle braces that restrict normal joint range of motion? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
The lace-up (or corset style) brace restricts all joint range of motion, including the up and down ankle motion needed to run and jump by binding it with laces and/or tight wraparound Velcro straps. A recent university study concluded that lace-ups “significantly decreased ankle joint range of motion and isokinetic measures of muscle torque, total work, and power.” To clarify, the lace-up brace negatively effects ankle range of motion and strength.
So, is there an ankle brace that doesn’t weaken the ankle? The good news is yes.
Hinged ankle braces that allow full unrestricted up and down ankle range of motion will not weaken the ankle. These braces have a hinge on each side of the ankle bone which allows the brace to move with the ankle, not against it like with lace-ups. By moving with the ankle joint, any straps can stay securely in place maintaining long-lasting ankle support.
There are two styles of hinged ankle braces available and commonly used by athletes – hinged and hinged-cuff. Hinged only braces were first introduced in 1989 and were designed primarily to restrict excessive ankle turning or “inversion.” Common brands of hinged ankle brace are Active Ankle, McDavid and Shock Doctor.
Hinged-cuff ankle braces were first introduced in 2000 and are designed to not only restrict excessive ankle turning (“inversion”) but also rotational twisting to help prevent both high and low ankle sprains. Brands of hinged-cuff ankle braces include Ultra Ankle, Don Joy, and Ossur.
If you have any more questions about ankle braces and how they may affect the strength of the ankle, leave me a comment below or send us a message! I’d be happy to answer your questions.