How to Choose an Ankle Brace

By: Dr. Jill Murphy, DPT, LAT, CSCS

Ankle sprains are the most common injuries in all of sports. Worse yet, 70% of sprains re-occur. Why such a high re-injury risk? Once a ligament in the body is torn, the stability between bony surfaces is lost. Any scar tissue that may form in the body’s attempt to heal the injury is simply not effective in protecting the affected joint.

While having an ankle taped by a healthcare professional appears to be both the most comfortable and effective means of reducing the risk of recurrent inversion ankle sprains, the cost of supplies and availability of certified athletic trainers prior to every practice and game are prohibitive. Thus, many athletes turn to ankle braces to help prevent ankle sprains, which in prospective studies of athletes with previous ankle sprains, are just as effective as taping in reducing inversion ankle sprain re-injury risk.1

In late 2019, The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Sports Science published a study by Benca et al that analyzed the effectiveness of five competing ankle braces in preventing inversion ankle sprains in both a static and dynamic lab simulation.2 The winner? The popular and relatively inexpensive Air Stirrup ankle brace ($31) was the only ankle brace that protected the lateral ankle ligaments from injury in both the static and dynamic conditions. This brace best protected the talofibular ligament, which is the most commonly injured ankle ligament.

Not to bury the lead, one caveat to this most recent research study is the fact that lace-up ankle braces were not one of the five ankle braces tested. McGuine et al3 utilized real world athletes in a prospective, randomized control trial to determine whether a lace-up brace was better than nothing at preventing ankle sprains in high school basketball players. The result was impressive in the reduction of the overall number of ankle sprains sustained in athletes utilizing the lace-up braces; however, when a sprain did occur, the severity of the sprain was similar whether athletes wore an ankle brace or not.

The best recommendation based on these studies is to utilize either the Air Stirrup or the lace-up ankle brace to prevent the reoccurrence of inversion ankle sprains in athletes. Since there appears to be inadequate research to choose a single winner, athlete preference in brace comfort may be the determining factor in brace selection between these two effective ankle braces.

1. Emily A. Hall, Janet E. Simon, and Carrie L. Docherty. Using ankle bracing and taping to decrease range of motion and velocity during inversion perturbation while walking. J of Athletic Training. 2016;Apr;51(4):283-290.
2. Benca E, Ziai P, Hirtler L, Schuh R, Zandieh S, Windhager R. Biomechanical evaluation of different ankle orthoses in a simulated lateral ankle sprain in two different modes. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019;29:1174-1180.
3. McGuine TA, Brooks A, Hetzel S. The effect of lace-up ankle braces on injury risk in high school basketball players. Am J Sports Med. 2011 Sep;39(9):1840-1848.