The high prevalence of ankle injuries in athletes has led to the increased recommendation and use of prophylactic ankle braces. Lisa Hardy and her colleagues conducted this research in order to test how the use of prophylactic ankle braces effects multidirectional single-limb dynamic balance.
The participants in this experiment consisted of 18 men and 18 women, all physically active and in their low to mid-twenties. Those individuals who reported a previous condition or lower limb injury which may affect the results of the test, or could not perform the Star Excursion Balance Test, SEBT, were excluded from experiment. After completing the screening the participants then reported to a lab and underwent three tests in order to determine their dominant leg. Each participant then performed six practice attempts of the SEBT, immediately followed by three attempts for data collection, under each brace condition: unbraced, semirigid brace, and lace-up. In the SEBT the participant places the ball of the dominant foot at the center of a grid and uses the nondominant leg to reach as far as they can in each of the eight directions (anterior, anterior medial, medial, posterior medial, posterior, posterior lateral, lateral, and anterior later, respectively). Reach distances from the center of the grid to the furthest distance reached were then measured to the nearest centimeter for each attempt. The results from each participant were recorded in a percentage of nondominant leg length so that they could be compared.
The researchers concluded that neither of the braces restricted range of motion in any of the 8 directions measured in healthy individuals. While considering the application of these results it is important to remember that the SEBT is a dynamic balance test and does not examine how these braces will affect athletes under active exercise and sport conditions. This test also does not measure how well each brace will prevent or reduce ankle injuries. These results, however, show no reason that prophylactic braces should not be used. In fact, this research suggests that either kind of brace can be beneficial in preventing ankle injuries while offering minimal movement restrictions on the joint. This may be especially good news to those athletes who have previous ankle injuries or concerns about avoiding future ones.
Hardy, L., Huxel, K., Brucker, J., & Nesser, T. (2008). Prophylactic ankle braces and star excursion balance measures in healthy volunteers. Journal of Athletic Training, 43(4), 347-351.