As a seasoned athletic trainer with over three decades of experience and 15+ patents in ankle brace design, I frequently get asked – “Do ankle braces weaken the ankle?” Especially in sports like volleyball, basketball, and football, where ankle injuries are prevalent, players wear ankle braces during games and practices to prevent sprains or reduce severity if an injury occurs. This common practice has led parents, coaches, and players to question the potential negative impact on ankle strength.
Understanding The Ways to Weaken A Joint
There are only two ways to weaken a joint and its supporting muscles:
- Non-usage of the joint: Typically observed post-surgery, when muscles atrophy due to non-use.
- Restricting joint range of motion: If a joint is restricted or bound up, preventing full range of motion, muscle weakening may occur.
Since athletes frequently use and strengthen their joints through drills and conditioning exercises, the primary concern is the potential weakening of the ankle by restricting its normal range of motion.
Do Any Ankle Braces Restrict Joint Range of Motion?
Unfortunately, yes. The lace-up (or corset style) brace restricts much of the ankle joint range of motion, including the essential up and down ankle motion needed for running and jumping. This restriction is due to the binding of laces and/or tight wraparound Velcro straps. A recent university study found that lace-ups significantly decreased ankle joint range of motion and isokinetic measures of muscle torque, total work, and power. In simpler terms, the lace-up brace adversely affects ankle range of motion and strength.
Are There Ankle Braces That Do Not Weaken The Ankle?
Fortunately, yes. Hinged ankle braces, which allow full unrestricted up and down ankle range of motion, do not weaken the ankle. These braces have hinges on each side of the ankle bone, allowing the brace to move with the ankle, unlike lace-ups that move against it. This synchronized movement ensures that any straps stay securely in place, maintaining long-lasting ankle support.
There are two commonly used styles of hinged ankle braces by athletes – hinged and hinged-cuff. The ‘hinged only’ braces, introduced in 1989, primarily restrict excessive ankle turning or “inversion.” Popular brands include Active Ankle, McDavid, and Shock Doctor.
On the other hand, ‘hinged-cuff’ ankle braces, like the Ultra Zoom®, restrict not only excessive ankle turning (“inversion”) but also rotational twisting, helping prevent both high and low ankle sprains. Brands of hinged-cuff ankle braces include Ultra Ankle, Don Joy, and Ossur.
While some ankle braces, like the lace-up style, can restrict joint range of motion and subsequently weaken the ankle, hinged and hinged-cuff ankle braces do not have this negative impact. However, if you want to prevent ankle injuries, I do suggest wearing and ankle brace of some kind. Please note, neoprene sleeves are not ankle braces and provide zero support.
If you have more questions about ankle braces and their effects on ankle strength, feel free to leave a comment below or send us a message. We are here to help!
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