In the 1990’s athletic trainers were spending considerable time and money taping the ankles of their players – a practice that some are still dedicated to today. During this time, lace-up ankle braces were introduced to reduce cost and save time, acting as essentially a reusable tape job that the athlete could apply themselves. As a result, lace-ups became popular as a low-cost alternative to taping the ankle. Now, lace-up style braces are inexpensive and readily available at all sporting goods stores – but are they the best option to protect your ankle from potential injuries?
Lace-Up Ankle Braces Lose Support Rapidly
When we are at sports tournaments we hear the same thing over and over from athletes, “why do I keep spraining my ankle if I wear a lace-up or tape my ankle?” Both tape and lace-ups feel so tight when you first apply them that you think, “wow, this is really going to support my ankle!” Then 30 minutes into a game you land on another players foot and sustain a grade 2 ankle injury. All that support that was felt when you first applied the brace is gone.
Some studies have shown that tape loses 70% of its effectiveness in the first 15 minutes of activity. The reason for this is that tape restricts the natural up and down movement of the ankle that is needed to run and jump. By restricting the natural joint movement, tape loses support rapidly. The same logic can be applied a lace-up brace acting as a reusable tape job – during activity it quickly stretches out and loosens as any fabric would, greatly reducing the level of support it can provide.
You’re Basically Binding Up Your Joint
Another reason why I would not recommend a lace-up style ankle brace is because it restricts the natural up and down movement of the ankle which is needed to perform at the highest level and keep your muscle strong. If the goal is to jump the highest or run the fastest, the last thing you would want is an ankle brace that binds, or ties, up your ankle and restricts the very motion you need to perform.
We would never restrict knee or elbow range of motion with a brace during athletic activity, so why would we want to restrict the ankle?
Lace-Up Ankle Supports are a Stinky Investment
My collegiate athletic trainer colleagues have told me their athletes can go through three pairs of lace-up braces per season, making them a worse investment than a slightly more expensive, long-lasting ankle brace. Lace-ups are made of fabric that, due to the constant resistance to the joint’s natural range of motion, ending up stretching, ripping, and/or tearing severely reducing the amount of time you can use it before having to buy a new one.
Aside from the natural tendency of fabric to wear out, it also absorbs bacteria. This bacteria not only causes the brace (and everything it comes in contact with…) to smell terrible but it also aides in further deteriorating the brace itself.
Better Alternatives to Lace-Up Ankle Stabilizers
Ankle braces are no different than any other product in the sense that you get what you pay for.
Lace-up braces represent the lowest cost type of ankle brace you can purchase, therefore it provides the least amount of support, performance, and durability. A much better solution for everyday use to help prevent the ankle injury is a semi-rigid, hinged cuff ankle brace. Our hinged-cuff ankle brace, the Ultra Zoom, allows you to move in all the natural ways and none of the bad ones. You’ll play better and play more losing less time to injuries.
If you have any questions about ankle braces, including more info on transitioning to a new brace from your lace-up, send our certified athletic trainers a message. We’re here to help you make the best ankle brace decision for your situation.
Written by Rick Peters
Rick Peters is a Certified Athletic Trainer who has been advancing ankle bracing technology for three decades. Peters patented his first ankle brace in 1985, revolutionizing the industry by adding a hinge to traditional stirrup braces for greater mobility. In 1989 he was a founder and became President of Active Ankle Systems. In 1998 he co-founded Ultra Athlete LLC to develop the next generation of ankle bracing technology. Peters has 18 ankle brace patents and is considered an authority on ankle bracing technology worldwide.