With 25,000 ankle injuries happening a day in the U.S. there are a lot of people looking for a solution for their ankle injury or chronic ankle instability. Unfortunately, ankle bracing is something that people are not well educated on or have heard misconceptions about through the grapevine over the years. The Certified Athletic Trainers here at Ultra Ankle strive to provide the best ankle bracing solution to each customer based on their specific needs and we hope to do that through education, providing research, and answering any questions about ankle bracing that athletes, parents, or coaches may have.

This article hopes to clarify the different ankle brace designs available on the market today and to provide you the necessary information to choose the right ankle brace for your ankle condition. If after reading this article you still have questions about which brace is right for you, send us a message and we would be happy to help. 

Types of Ankle Braces

There are three main types of ankle braces available on the market today:

  1. Lace-ups (fabric based that may/may not have wrap around straps)
  2. Hinged (semi-rigid plastic shell with wrap around strap)
  3. Hinged-Cuff (semi-rigid or flexible shell with straps)

Lace-Up Ankle Braces

Lace-up ankle braces were first invented in 1887 as a basic corset design that uses laces or Velcro to bind the ankle to restrict all ankle range of motion. Today these lace-up braces will typically have straps that wrap around the ankle in a figure-8.

Since these braces can be laced up as tight as possible, they may give the wearer a false sense of support when they are first applied, however they lose support quickly as they resist the ankle’s natural range of motion. While lace-up ankle guards may feel comfortable because they are made out of fabric, this fabric is also less durable and will easily rip and tear over time… not to mention absorb odors and start to smell pretty bad.  

Research studies have shown that lace-up ankle braces can restrict performance by resisting the natural ankle range of motion. This is one reason why we recommend athletes wear a hinged ankle brace for prevention purposes – this way the ankle does not weaken over time due to being held tightly in place. While all hinged ankle braces are not the same, they do provide the necessary range of motion to enhance ankle strength and performance unlike the lace-up type braces.

Overall, the lace-up ankle brace is designed for individuals on a budget needing mild ankle support that are not engaging in competitive and/or high intensity activity. Some of the better brands in this category are McDavid®, ShockDoctor®, Cramer® and ASO®.

Hinged Ankle Braces

Hinged ankle braces were first introduced commercially in 1985 when I created a brace that utilized a pivoting hinge connecting the bottom foot section on both sides of the ankle to an upright section that was secured with a strap to the lower leg. This design went on to create the foundation of ankle bracing company Active Ankle® Systems.

 The innovative hinge design offered the athlete free up and down ankle motion to run and jump without restriction. With the brace moving with the ankle, and not against it like with lace-ups, the brace stayed securely in place maintaining longer-lasting ankle support.  Since the hinged brace is typically made with a semi-rigid plastic they can be durable enough to last a few sports seasons however have been known to crack/break a lot in recent years due to an adjustment in the materials being used by certain brands. Since these braces are typically meant to go under the insole of the shoe, they tend to move with the shoe rather than the ankle joint which increases the odds of an injury as well as creates unneeded space between the joint and the brace. The closer to the ankle a brace can get, the more control over excessive joint movement it will have.

Hinged ankle braces are good for individuals looking for moderate ankle support to help protect or prevent the basic “low” ankle sprain or inversion (turning) ankle injury. Brands in this category are Active Ankle® and McDavid®. 

Hinged-Cuff Ankle Braces

After years of studying hinged ankle braces and where their technology was falling short, we introduced the most modern ankle bracing technology in the year 2000 – hinged-cuff ankle braces. This design utilizes a pivoting hinge connecting the bottom foot section to the upright section.  The upright section is designed with a cuff that encircles the posterior or rear of the lower leg.  The addition of the cuff design helped to provide rotational stability to help prevent the more severe high (syndesmotic) ankle injuries. Hinged-cuff ankle braces are also crucial in helping to prevent low ankle injuries caused by excessive ankle turning by providing the support needed to keep the ankle in place while still allowing it to move as it naturally should.

 At Ultra Ankle® our hinged-cuff ankle braces are made with a flexible plastic outer shell called Performathane® that will typically last three sports seasons. Both the Performathane shell and padding system uses body heat to create a form fit to the ankle. Our braces are worn right over the sock, as opposed to inside or outside of the shoe, to get as close to the joint as possible for optimal levels of comfort, support, and durability.

Hinged-cuff ankle braces are the best ankle brace for individuals and athletes to wear for mild/moderate ankle instability, chronic ankle instability, or for acute ankle injury bracing. No other type of brace gets as close to the ankle while allowing it to retain its strength and full range of motion during activity. Popular brands are Ultra Ankle®, Don Joy® and Ossur®. 

13 responses to “Which Ankle Braces Are Best for You?”

  1. Maria says:

    Previous sprained ankle is causing discomfort (around ankle and starting to radiate up my leg) in my new passion of rebounding. I run on the rebounder barefoot so I need a ankle brace that I could wear preferably barefoot or at least with a sock one that would help out my ankle. I believe it’s rotating inward.
    Thank you

    Maria,

    Thanks for reaching out to Ultra Ankle. We really appreciate it.

    The only type of ankle brace you can wear without a shoe is a lace-up style ankle brace like our Ultra 360. The Ultra 360 has a lace-up design which locks your ankle in place while the two figure-8 straps help to prevent ankle turning. Just wear over a sock and you should be good to go.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.
    Rick Peters ATC

  2. Jerald Daughrity says:

    A number years ago I shattered my right ankle. Surgery resulted in three screws, one now broken in half. With increasing ankle pain, my present orthopedic surgeon has recommended a brace. Is this preferable to surgery? I am 81 years of age.

    • ultraankle says:

      Hi Jerald – thank you for your comment! We will reach out directly to get more info as we need to know if you have weight-bearing pain and your activity level before recommending a brace.

  3. Sue says:

    I’m older and have had weak ankles for many years. I was diagnosed with posterior tibial disfunction many years ago. My problem is ankle cramps at night while sleeping. Which support could I wear during the day to relieve the problem?

    • ultraankle says:

      Sue,

      Thanks for reaching out to Ultra Ankle. We really appreciate it.

      With Posterior Tibial Tendon Disfunction I would recommend our Ultra Zoom ankle brace. The Ultra Zoom has a flexible shell that uses body heat to form-fit to the ankle for comfortable long-lasting ankle support. The hinge design allows for natural ankle range of motion to keep the muscles strong. The Ultra Zoom will provide the ankle stabilization you need to help your PTTD heal.

      SHOES: We recommend a low top sneaker with a traditional tongue and laces where you can spread out the laces enough to fit the brace in the shoe.

      SIZING: When sizing the Ultra Zoom make sure you measure your ankle circumference per the size chart on the product page. Do not use shoe size to determine ankle brace size.

      Take a look at the product information and get back to me with any other questions you may have.

  4. Alan Baggett says:

    Dear sirs:
    My age is 68, I am an active rancher. Which brace is best for weight bearing pain in ankle? Arthritis in ankle due to bone on bone thanks

    • ultraankle says:

      Alan,

      Thanks for reaching out to Ultra Ankle. We really appreciate it.

      With bone on bone joint irritation, or osteoarthritis (OA) you will need an ankle brace that will “unload” the ankle. Ankle unloading means the brace will absorb some of the impact from standing or walking that would normally be transferred into the ankle causing joint irritation and pain. Our best ankle brace for unloading is the Ultra CTS, To read about how the Ultra CTS is effective at treating osteoarthritis please visit our Osteoarthritis page.

      Seeing that you are a rancher and probably wear boots, the Ultra CTS will not fit in a boot. There is just not enough room for your ankle and the brace. We recommend a low top shoe with traditional tongue and laces where you can spread out the laces enough to fit the brace in the shoe.

      Please review all the product information and get back to me if you have any additional questions.

  5. Lindsay says:

    I’ve had a low grade ankle sprain for a little over 8 weeks now. I’m 33 years old and in good health otherwise; no history of ankle injuries and no idea how the sprain happened. It was minor at first but got worse after I ignored it a few days. MRI didn’t show anything major, but it doesn’t seem to be healing (still swollen and sore). I’ve been following the RICE method and wearing Velcro braces from my local drugstore when I’m at home (which is most of the time since I work from home) and a boot when I leave the house. My new doctor (who is an orthopedic surgeon) recommended I wear a lace up brace when at home instead. Do lace ups provide more support than Velcro? I see from this article that lace up braces restrict motion and can weaken muscles in the area.. Just trying to find the best bracing option so it can heal.

    • ultraankle says:

      Lindsay,

      Thanks for reaching out to Ultra Ankle. We really appreciate it.

      The lace-up ankle brace will provide more support than the Velcro ankle brace you purchased at the pharmacy. However lace-up ankle braces really don’t provide much support after about 20 minutes of wearing because they lose support rapidly because your ankle is working against the brace. The most supportive ankle braces are hinged ankle braces because they move with the natural movement of the ankle so the straps stay securely in place maintaining long lasting ankle support. For you, based on your ankle injury history and the fact that you are still having swelling and pain I would recommend the Ultra Zoom ankle brace. The Ultra Zoom has a flexible shell that uses body heat to form-fit to the ankle for comfortable long-lasting ankle support. The hinge design allows for natural ankle range of motion to enhance performance and keep the muscles strong.

      SHOES: We recommend a low top sneaker with a traditional tongue and laces where you can spread out the laces enough to fit the brace in the shoe.

      SIZING: When sizing the Ultra Zoom make sure you measure your ankle circumference per the size chart on the product page. Do not use shoe size to determine ankle brace size.

      For more details about the Ultra Zoom please take a look at this brief Ultra Zoom Fitting Video.

      Take a look at the product information and get back to me with any other questions you may have.

  6. Gonzalo Merino says:

    Hi- I have pain on the top of the foot – likely extensor tendinitis. What is the best brace to provide support and limit the up and down movement of the foot (verticle ankle movement- not lateral)? Thanks.

    • Rick Peters says:

      Gonzalo,

      Thanks for reaching out to Ultra Ankle. We really appreciate it.

      The only ankle brace we have that does not have a hinge (that allows full up and down ankle movement) is the Ultra 360. The Ultra 360 is a lace-up ankle brace that locks your ankle in place while the two figure-8 straps help prevent excessive and tuning. Take a look at the product information and let me know if you have any other questions.

  7. Nick says:

    My daughter is coming back from a closed salter type 1 fracture of distal end of fibula. She has a walking boot on now but will be talking it off shortly. What kind of brace do you recommend to wear after removing the boot. Thanks.

    • Rick Peters says:

      Nick,

      Thanks for reaching out to Ultra Ankle. We really appreciate it.

      What I would need to know before recommending the appropriate ankle brace post salter type 1 fracture is the following.
      • When she is not in the walking boot does she have any weight bearing pain? That is pain from just standing or walking.
      • Does she have any pain over the fracture site? Is it painful to touch?
      • Will she be returning to a sport? If so, what sport?

      I look forward to your reply.
      Rick Peters ATC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ultra Zoom

Help prevent ankle injuries all season long.

Ultra High-5

Reinforce the ankle after a history of multiple ankle injuries

Ultra CTS

Maximize stabilization to treat acute ankle injuries