My older brother played football through high school and college. He always wore lace-up ankle braces and swore by them. Being the younger brother out to prove something, I have ignored his advice but secretly wonder if he's right. Should I be wearing these braces? I haven't injured myself yet but I'm only a sophomore in high school so far.
Physical therapists and athletic trainers working with high school football players are concerned about the high number of players benched because of ankle injuries. Recently, they conducted a study to compare the number and severity of ankle injuries in players with and without a lace-up ankle brace. They also looked to see if there were more knee injuries in athletes who did not wear the brace. What they found might be of interest to you. Over 2000 football players from 50 high schools participated in this study. They were divided into two groups: those who wore a lace-up ankle brace and those who did not wear a brace (the control group). The study was conducted over one football season. The brace was worn on both ankles by players in the brace group. Athletic trainers made sure the braces fit properly and were worn during practice, conditioning sessions, and games. The players could wear their own shoes (low- or mid-top height) and their preferred cleat type (molded or detachable). Injuries were reported along with information about the field surface (grass or synthetic) and the type of injury (ligament sprain, muscle strain, contusion, fracture). Only injuries that occurred during sports activities were counted. Records were kept to show whether the athlete was seen by a physician, required surgery, and/or suffered other bodily injuries as well. Severity of ankle injuries was measured by the number of days the athlete was unable to play. By the end of the season, between one-fourth and one-third of the players (27 per cent) suffered some type of injury. Injury rates for the ankle and knee were much higher in the non-braced (control) group. In fact, there were 70 per cent fewer ankle injuries for players who had a prior history of ankle injuries. And there was a 57 per cent reduction in ankle injuries measured in players who had never had a previous ankle injury (like you). These rates were calculated based on comparing results to the control group. The severity of these injuries was not different from players injured while wearing the brace as compared to players injured in the control group (no brace). There was no difference in number or severity of knee injuries (or other leg injuries) between the two groups. In summary, the results of this study showed that lace-up ankle braces do reduce the number (but not severity) of acute ankle injuries in high school football players. Something to think about! More studies are needed to help identify players who might be at increased risk of ankle injuries. Other studies show neuromuscular training programs work well to prevent ankle injuries. So for players who are motivated to do a few extra exercises, the brace may not be needed at all. And there are concerns that an ankle brace reduces ankle motion and may increase the risk of stress fractures, low back injuries, or upper leg and hip injuries. This is another area for future study.