A common question I get several times a week from people inquiring through our website portal is, “which ankle brace is best for me, the Ultra Zoom or the Ultra High-5.” Which I reply with several questions about their current ankle condition and injury history.

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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?

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While hinged braces might not be the most exciting topic in the world to discuss, it’s definitely an important one. Whether your joint has been injured, or you’re trying to prevent an injury from occurring, it is crucial that the brace you wear is effective in supporting and stabilizing your joint.

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What is your go-to ankle brace for acute ankle injuries? Don’t have one? It turns out you’re not alone.

When it comes to bracing acute ankle injuries, many AT’s end up using a walking boot because they are lacking a sufficient ankle brace alternative. Seeing this void in the marketplace led the ATs at Ultra Ankle to develop the first ankle brace specifically designed to treat/brace acute ankle injuries – the Ultra CTS (Custom Treatment System).

With the Ultra CTS ankle brace we address the two features needed most when bracing acute ankle injuries – maximum ankle and lower leg stabilization combined with reducing weight bearing pain. 

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Just so there is full disclosure in this blog, I invented both the Active Ankle® T2 and Ultra Zoom® by Ultra Ankle®. After developing the first commercially available hinged ankle brace I was one of the founders of Active Ankle Systems in 1989 and was its President until 1996. In 1999, I was co-founder of Ultra Athlete LLC and developed the Ultra Ankle line of ankle braces. Through all of those years of ankle brace development I accumulated 18 U.S. and numerous foreign patents on emerging ankle bracing technologies.

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As a university athletic training student, the first thing we learned in class was how to tape an ankle. Taping the ankle was something athletic trainers would take pride in and it was always a competition as to who could tape the ankle the best and the quickest. But looking back now, after over 30 years of being an ATC, is ankle taping always appropriate for the ankle?

WHEN NOT TO TAPE YOUR ANKLE

As a university athletic training student working with the football program we taped the ankles of every player on the team at great expense and time. We taped perfectly healthy ankles with no previous injury history with the goal of helping to prevent the ankle injury during practice and games. Looking back at that experience, I don’t think that was a wise decision.

When you tape the ankle you are locking that ankle joint in a fixed position which would restrict normal up and down ankle range of motion necessary to run and jump at a high level. Why would you want to restrict normal, non-injury range of motion? The answer is you wouldn’t, and therefore I would advise against taping a perfectly healthy ankle to help prevent the ankle injury.

If you did play a sport with a high incidence of ankle injuries and wanted to protect your ankle I would suggest wearing an ankle brace with a hinge that would allow full up and down ankle range of motion. This way you get the performance of being able to move your ankle freely with the protection the ankle brace provides for excessive turning and twisting. Not to mention, studies have found “that ankle taping would be 3.05 times as expensive as ankle bracing over the course of a competitive season” so this method isn’t as cost effective in the long run.

WHEN TO TAPE YOUR ANKLE

Now, let’s say you do have a few previous ankle injuries and you want to tape your ankle to provide additional stability to help prevent future ankle injuries. Taping the ankle is perfectly fine in this situation as many collegiate and professional athletes routinely have the athletic trainer tape their ankles before every practice and game. In some circumstances, like gymnasts who don’t wear shoes in competition, ankle taping can be the only option for ankle injury prevention and in that case is better than no support at all. 

Limitations of Ankle Taping

When taping your ankle, it’s important to keep in mind the limitations that taping can provide so that you choose the best way to protect yourself. One of the biggest limitations of tape is that like cheap, outdated lace-up ankle braces, tape that is used to wrap ankles is typically made of fabric. As you continue rigorous activity, the tape (like fabric) will become loose and unstable in a short amount of time reducing the amount of support it can ultimately give you.

When your ankle is taped in the commonly fixed 90º position, the tape will be forced to stretch, migrate, and shift during activity. When you’re playing your sport or moving around your ankle is moving up and down and constantly working against the tape. This will not only cause the tape to lose its structural integrity, but may also fatigue your ankle joint due to the extra effort it is putting forth to move in it’s natural range of motion.

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

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Some sports have a very high incidence of ankle injuries, so coaches and athletic trainers often times will require athletes to wear an ankle brace to help prevent the ankle injury. Yes, ankle braces can prevent some ankle injuries, however, they are really designed to lessen the severity should an injury occur. Wearing an ankle brace could be the difference in getting a grade 1 ankle sprain and missing two days of activity instead of getting a grade 2 ankle sprain and missing three weeks of activity.

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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.

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

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Did you get much education in college about the different ankle bracing technologies available? Many athletic trainers tell me they received little or no formal education about bracing of any sort.

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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.

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