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.

5 responses to “Do Ankle Braces Weaken Your Ankle?”

  1. Martin Ryan says:

    My right ankle has a lot of wear and tear from my football days , I should have had it fused Years ago too late now , Is there a Brace to help ease pain when I walk , I am 68 years old, Regards Martin.

    • Rick Peters says:

      Thanks Martin for the question. Per your ankle condition it looks like you have ankle osteoarthritis which means you will need an ankle brace that will “unload” the ankle to reduce joint irritation and pain. I sent you an email with more details on our Ultra CTS ankle brace and additional information on ankle osteoarthritis. Thanks again for the question. Rick, Certified Athletic Trainer

  2. Rolinda LeMay says:

    I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type III (hEDS) which causes hypermobility of joints due to lax ligaments and tendons. My ankles pronate and a orthotics doesn’t seem to be doing much to keep my ankles stable. Will a hinged ankle brace help?

  3. Tracy says:

    My son plays basketball and in July had a grade 3 right ankle sprain. He’s wearing lace up braces and has back pain and is slower on the court. He feels like taping is what’s best but the trainer will not routinely tape post injury and suggests braces. He needs support but wants to move quicker. He’s been given all kinds of stretches to do to loosen up all of the tightness in legs and back. Thanks for your help!

    • Rick Peters says:

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

      Sorry to hear about your sons ankle injurie. Taping the ankle provides the least amount of support. Although it feels nice and tight when its first applied, after 20 minutes of exercise it loses 70% of its support. Likewise lace-up ankle brace do the same thing because they restrict all ankle motion so they work against normal ankle motion. Our Limitless Performance Series ankle brace have a hinge so they move with natural ankle range of motion.

      For your son 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 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.

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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