Ankle injuries are one of the most frequent injuries in high school sports. This negatively impacts both the athlete and their team. Ankle injuries result in significant time lost from sports activity, and they are often slow to heal, causing lingering disability. In addition, ankle injuries have a high re-injury rate, resulting in repeated injury and recovery cycles. Obviously, preventing ankle injuries in the first place is best. The practice of prophylactic, or preventative, ankle bracing and taping is one way to accomplish this.
Myths of Bracing and Taping
It is a common myth that wearing ankle braces or taping to prevent ankle injuries will weaken the ankle. In addition, some believe that it can lead to injuries in other parts of the leg. However, research disagrees with this. Studies show that bracing and taping are effective ways of preventing ankle injuries. Furthermore, athletes who have had a previous ankle injury receive even greater benefit from ankle taping and bracing compared to those without previous ankle injuries.
In fact, ankle bracing and taping may provide mechanical support, as well as increased awareness of the movement of the ankle. This can result in decreased risk of ankle injury. So, which is better for preventing ankle injuries – taping or bracing?
Brace or Tape?
Bracing allows the player to apply and adjust the brace throughout the activity. This keeps the support optimal throughout the practice or game. On the other hand, once tape is applied, it is not adjustable. Another disadvantage of taping is that it quickly loosens once the athlete starts to move and sweat. Typically, tape provides the greatest support only in the first 20 minutes. In addition, there are other advantages to bracing over taping. Braces are reusable and more cost effective in the long run. In comparison, traditional taping can cost up to three times more than a brace over the course of a season.
Bracing has its disadvantages, too. They are bulky and difficult to fit under uniforms and inside of shoes. Limited brace sizes means they don’t fit everyone perfectly. And, braces have a higher upfront cost than tape. On the other hand, when tape is correctly applied, it provides customized support to the ankle, and can be more comfortable and fit better in athletic shoes.
Best Practice for Preventing Ankle Injuries
The majority of studies on taping vs. bracing conclude that bracing is slightly more effective at preventing ankle injuries. In one study published by The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, the author followed 300 football players over a six-year period. Comparing the two preventative therapies, they found that wearing an ankle brace was twice as effective for preventing ankle injuries as taping.
There are many types of ankle braces on the market: soft, semi-rigid, and rigid, and each has its own benefits depending on the situation. Ask your athletic trainer to learn more about ankle bracing. They can help you decide if you will benefit from bracing and help find the right brace for you.
Written by: Lindsay Hagler, MS, ATC, CSCS athletic trainer for The Center Foundation and Mountain View High School in Bend, OR. Learn more about Lindsay HERE.
The Center Foundation places dedicated athletic trainers in local high schools to provide sports medicine services to young athletes at no charge to the students or their families. Learn more about our work HERE.
The Effect of Preventive Measures on the Incidence of Ankle Sprains, Verhagen, Evert A. L. M.; van Mechelen, Willem; de Vente, Wieke, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 10(4):291-296, October 2000. (Accessed online November 2018).