To Brace or Not to Brace?

By: morgan Schultz, Athletic Therapist

To brace, or not to brace: that is the question! As an Athletic Therapist, I often get asked about bracing and taping for acute and chronic injuries, as well as injury prevention. Today, I am going to take some time to discuss when you should and when you should not brace injuries; specifically, ankle sprains. 

Ankle Sprains Are a Common Injury

Ankle sprains are common, especially for sports injuries. In fact, 1 in 1000 people will suffer from an ankle sprain in their lifetime AND 1/3rd to 2/3rds of those people will have continued problems. When you roll your ankle and sprain it, either the outside (lateral) or inside (medial) ligaments get damaged. These ligaments are the structures that help stabilize the ankle joint from side to side. Common acute symptoms of a sprain are swelling, bruising, and pain. However, the longest-lasting complaint following a sprain is the lack of stability of the joint. This instability is what needs to be treated to successfully return to sports or physical activities.  

This is where the term “bracing” comes into the equation. As an Athletic Therapist, I have mastered the ankle tape job as it is the most prevalent technique in the world of athletics. Initially, someone recovering from an ankle sprain must have the support of tape while they are gradually returning to their sport. However, after the ankle has had some time to recover and strengthen, the athlete can transition to a brace. A brace provides the same concept of support, just to a lesser degree.  

So, we ask: Is it necessary to put an individual into a brace even though structurally the ankle is strong, stable, and healed? Listed below are arguments for either side of this question: 

 To Brace: 

Prevents recurrent injury  

Mentally allows the athlete to feel safer  

 Not to Brace: 

– Ankle begins to rely on the brace which leads to muscle weakness  

– Restriction of motion from the brace impairs performance  

– The user becomes mentally reliant on brace  

– Immobilizes the joint less than its normal  ability 

– Causes knee, hip, and lower back issues 

There is no doubt that bracing the ankle protects it from a further or recurrent injury; whether that be physical or mental for an individual. But are these reasons strong enough to outweigh the extensive list of reasons not to brace?  

Our Approach to Using an Ankle Brace

I believe it comes down to the person who sustained the injury, their level of activity, and the degree of the injury. Each of my actions is based on my patients needs, which has led to a customized approach to care. Consequently, I can sway either way in this argument. If there is a psychological component, then I will recommend someone to brace if it means they can get back to the activity or sports they love. However, I have also read about reasons not to brace; because of this, I guide my patients through a rehabilitative program where they do not have to rely on an ankle brace. This is done using the proper modalities and exercise therapy.  

In summary, there are certain instances where bracing long-term makes sense, and some situations where it does not. The simple answer is – it depends!  

Feel free to reach out if you have any additional bracing questions or you can book your appointment online by clicking here.