Ankle injuries can happen to anyone, during a wide range of activities and across all age ranges. We normally associate ankle injuries with athletes during sports where there is running and changing directions, and particularly where there’s a lot of jumping or a chance of stepping on someone's foot (like basketball, soccer, volleyball). If you're looking for quality engineered ankle braces for sports have a look here.
Ankle injuries can also happen from daily activities like slipping on an uneven surface, tripping over an object, or landing wrong when stepping down.
The most common ankle injuries are sprains and strains (rolled, twisted, and turned), with the outside or lateral ankle being the most commonly injured. The other common ankle conditions involve overuse, such as Achilles Tendonitis with repetitive or intense strain on the Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone).
There are a wide range of ankle braces and supports available to help you manage pain, reduce inflammation and to keep you moving. What brace to use for your situation can be very confusing.
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Here is a quick guide to help make sense of Ankle braces for two common conditions: Sprains and Achilles Tendonitis.
Condition #1: Ankle Sprain / Strain
Ankle sprains should be treated right away to stop the swelling, reduce pain, and limit how much weight is placed on the injured ankle. A common protocol for treating Ankle sprains is "RICE" rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Mild pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are also typically used to help ease pain and swelling. Ankle braces and supports are a key tool in helping you support and protect your ankle. They can also assist with swelling and pain reduction. Your doctor may suggest that you work with a physical therapist to help you regain full range of ankle motion, improve balance, and maximize strength. Healing of the ligaments usually takes about six weeks, but swelling may be present for several months.
A sprain is an injury to a ligament, and a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Strains can occur without a sprain, however, when you have a sprain you will almost always have a strain.
Sprains are categorized into three types - First, Second, and Third degree.
- First Degree Sprain - occurs when the ankle is taken past its normal range of motion and the ligaments have been overstretched but not torn. Symptoms include mild pain, little or no swelling, little or no joint instability, some joint stiffness or difficulty walking or running.
- Second Degree Sprain - the most common type of sprain and includes mild partial ligament tears. Symptoms can include intense swelling, moderate pain and moderate loss of motion or use of the joint. Walking can be difficult.
- Third Degree Sprain - much less common and usually requires medical attention. Usually involves a total rupture of a ligament. Symptoms are intense swelling, extreme loss of motion, and instability of the joint.
Ankle Brace Designs for Sprains
The type of ankle brace you require depends on the severity of the injury.
Mild support for First Degree Sprains
For a First Degree or mild strain the most appropriate Ankle braces are lightweight and lower profile, with moderate support, such as these compression ankle sleeves
Moderate support for Second Degree Sprains
For a Second Degree Sprain and for people who are more active in sports (with lateral or side to side movements) a moderate support ankle brace can treat the injury and help avoid further re-injury. Here are examples of ankle braces designed with more moderate support, this includes lace up and wrap around designs. Here are examples:
Maximum support for Third Degree Sprains
For a Third Degree or severe ankle sprain with ankle instability, ankle braces with maximum support are required. This includes stirrup designs (a splint on either side of the brace is used after an injury to limit movement. The splint squeezes your ankle between two pads) and Rigid designs that provide more immobilization, some include air cells. Here are examples of stirrup and rigid ankle braces:
Condition #2: Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body connecting your heel bone to your calf muscles. It is used when walking, running, and jumping.
Achilles Tendonitis occurs when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed or aggravated from being overstressed or overworked.
Stress on the tendon can occur when an athlete changes the intensity or amount of exercise. Tight calf muscles, and lack of flexibility also contribute to stress on the tendon. Age can play a role as our tendons become less flexible (middle-age athletes tend to be more susceptible to Achilles Tendonitis). Improperly fitting equipment and poor footwear can also contribute.
Overuse is common in runners who add too much mileage too quickly or with frequent hill training. Poor running technique can also aggravate the Achilles (typically due to overstriding).
Symptoms of Achilles Tendonitis include heel pain (which starts slowly and worsens over time), as well as stiffness or tenderness along the Achilles in the mornings after waking up (which may improve as you start going about your day). Pain may extend to the back of the leg and there may also be mild swelling around the heel. Symptoms are usually worse after running or after physical activity.
Ankle Brace Designs for Achilles Tendonitis
There are many treatments available for Achilles Tendonitis depending on the severity, from home remedies, such as anti-inflammatory medications and RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), to more intensive treatments such as steroid injections and surgery. Physical therapy and massage that promote gently stretching (and later strengthening) of your calf muscles can be beneficial. Wearing a compression sock, ankle brace, or walking boot to provide support and to prevent heel movement is also very helpful.
There are many ankle supports designed specifically for Achilles Tendonitis to counteract irritation to the tendon, through support and compression. Many ankle brace designs also include pads that massage the area. For more severe issues (and following surgery) a rigid boot with a 'wedge' can be used to keep the ankle in a slightly flexed (foot pointed down) position to protect the tendon from overstretching while it heals.
Here are some examples of Ankle supports for Achilles Tendonitis: