Maximizing Pickleball Performance: Why Ankle Braces are Crucial.

The fusion of tennis, badminton, and table tennis has birthed an electrifying sport – pickleball. It’s fun, versatile, and straightforward nature is quickly making it a favorite among individuals of all skill levels, ages, and physical conditions. However, despite the fun, pickleball can adversely impact our bodies, especially the joints, if not played with necessary precautions. Here, we delve into the crucial role ankle braces play in pickleball, their functionality, and how they can enhance your safety during play.


Protecting Your Ankles in Pickleball: The Role of Ankle Braces

Your ankle is a sophisticated structure encompassing bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. It offers stability and mobility, enabling activities such as walking, running, jumping, and pivoting. Given that pickleball involves rapid direction changes, sudden stops and starts, jumping, and pivoting, the risk of ankle injuries is high. Additionally, once an ankle injury has occurred, it is 70% more likely to be reinjured in the future.

Ankle braces have two main purposes: providing stability to reduce injury risk and supporting an injured ankle for quicker recovery. Some braces, like the Ultra 360® Lace-Up brace, do limit ankle movement with the thought that less movement means less chance of injury. They also absorb some of the forces that would typically impact the ankle joint. Hinged Cuff braces like the Ultra Zoom®, on the other hand, provide maximum support without limiting ankle mobility. The Ultra Zoom not only helps prevent the typical ankle sprains/injuries, such as rolled ankles, but it also helps prevent high ankle injuries, which typically take much longer to recover from.


Advantages of Ankle Braces for Pickleball Players

Injury Prevention: Pickleball’s swift movements and directional shifts strain the ankle, increasing sprain and fracture risks. Ultra Ankle® braces help prevent the ankle from rolling or twisting beyond its usual range of motion, minimizing injury chances.

Support and Stability: Lace-Up braces, like the Ultra 360, compress the joint, helping to improve stability and enhance proprioception – the perception of body and limb positioning. The Ultra Zoom brace custom-form fits to the ankle and foot increasing stability while still providing comfort. The hinged-cuff design allows for the ankle to maintain its full range of motion without compromising mobility.

Confidence Enhancement: Ankle braces increase players’ confidence by offering an additional protective layer. This assurance allows players to concentrate on winning rather than worrying about potential ankle injuries. Why just accept ankle injuries are a part of the game?

Post-Injury Rehabilitation: Ankle braces, specifically the Ultra Zoom, can assist recovery in players who have experienced previous ankle injuries, offering support and reducing re-injury risk. Additionally, the Ultra Zoom limits the amount of micro-tears in the ankle’s tendons and muscles while moving around the pickleball court, thereby reducing the post-match soreness in the joint.


Selecting the Ideal Ankle Brace for Pickleball

When it comes to choosing the right ankle brace for pickleball, there are a few factors to consider. First, what will be the purpose(s) of your ankle brace? Will you be using it for injury prevention, or, will you be using it to recover from an ankle injury you’ve already sustained? It could also be a combination of both. You may want to recover from an ankle injury and prevent further injuries down the road. Our Ultra 360® ankle brace is good for injury prevention. It utilizes figure-8 straps to provide 360 degrees of support. It compresses the joint to help protect it from excessive movement and provides moderate support while still maintaining good mobility. If you are looking for maximum support with maximum mobility, our Ultra Zoom® “fits” the bill. The Ultra Zoom is a custom form-fit soft-shell brace. It molds to the ankle and foot by utilizing an athlete’s body heat. It has a Hinged-Cuff design that allows for the ankle to move in all its natural ways while preventing both high and low ankle injuries. Additionally, the Ultra Zoom is a great brace to treat and recover from ankle injuries faster as it helps to absorb impact on the joint from moving around on the pickleball court. Once recovered from an ankle injury it will also help prevent further injury to the same ankle, allowing you to get back on the court and stay on the court while losing less time to ankle injuries.


Final Thoughts on Ankle Braces and Pickleball Safety

While Ultra Ankle® braces offer critical support and protection, they’re part of a broader pickleball safety approach. Incorporate strength and flexibility training focusing on lower body and core muscles, wear proper footwear, and establish suitable warm-up and cool-down routines.

Recognizing the physical demands pickleball exerts helps us make informed decisions to maintain our game enjoyment. An ankle brace is a minor yet significant step towards improved pickleball performance and durability. So remember: play smart, play hard, and brace-up to stay in the game!

As an AT I work a lot of tournaments where I hear “Why am I injuring my ankle even though I wear an ankle brace?”  As all AT’s know, braces are designed to lessen the severity should an injury occur, but are you recommending the most effective ankle brace to help prevent those injuries?

Evaluating the most effective ankle brace starts with taking a look at it’s design and ability to provide long-lasting joint support. Any ankle brace can feel supportive when you first apply it, but what happens to that brace in 30 minutes? An hour? Is there any support left?  Here is a breakdown as to why some brace designs work well for long-lasting ankle support, while others fall short.

Do You Restrict Range of Motion? 

Let’s start with bracing principles of effective design. A brace that moves freely with the natural joint motion will always be more effective at providing long-lasting support compared to a brace that resists the natural range of motion of the joint. Why is this? If a brace works against (or restricts) the material movement of the joint, it will stretch out, migrate and shift causing the brace to lose support rapidly.

An example of an ankle brace that restricts normal joint ROM is the lace-up style. Lace-up ankle braces were first developed as a reusable tape job that the athlete could apply themselves. However, like a tape job, the lace-up loses a majority of its support in the first 15-20 minutes of activity. 

Do You Control Heel Movement?

As athletic trainers we were taught that if you can control heel movement, you can control the ankle. You might say “Wait, lace-ups that have a heel lock strap can control heel movement.” Which may be true for the first few minutes of activity, at which point the lace-up ankle brace begins to rapidly lose support. In theory it is true that if you can control heel movement then you can control the ankle, however it is unachievable with any ankle brace.

Do You Use Hinged Braces?

If you want to know what the most effective ankle brace design is at providing long-lasting ankle support, just take a look at the way knee braces are designed – with a hinge. When the brace is hinged and able to move with the joint, the straps stay securely in place maintaining long-lasting ankle support.  By moving with the joint, the brace is not only providing long-lasting support, but it also does not negatively affect athletic performance. 

Although hinged ankle braces are able to move with the joint, there are still some negatives associated with them. Because most hinged ankle braces are made with a rigid plastic, they are bulky and uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. They are also more susceptible to cracking and breaking due to material fatigue. Unlike older versions of rigid, hinged ankle braces, our low-profile Ultra Zoom ankle brace uses an advanced material called Performathane which uses body heat to form-fit to the ankle.  This new material overcomes the negatives of rigid hinged ankle braces by being form-fitting, flexible and extremely comfortable while providing the long-lasting ankle support only a hinge design can provide. 

Is Your Program Up to Date?

Maybe you’re already familiar with the best types of ankle braces for your athletes, but your program is in the habit of purchasing the same old lace-up style brace every year. As athletic trainers we usually want to try the brace out on our athletes before we commit to purchasing the product. You know that hinged ankle braces are better than lace-ups, but will your athletes wear them?

Regardless of your situation, I would love to correspond with you about your ankle bracing protocol and how Ultra Ankle can help improve the effectiveness of the ankle braces you recommend to your athletes – just send me a message.

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