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Ankle injuries?…. Brace or Tape?

A common question we receive from athletes who have suffered an ankle sprain is whether it is better to have the ankle taped or to wear an ankle support orthotic (brace). Some people prefer the feel of a good tape job, others prefer the adaptability of an ankle support orthotic… so which is better??

Well, luckily there has been research performed that compares the effectiveness of both prophylactic measures.

Sharpe, S., Knapik, J., Jones, B. “Ankle Braces Effectively Reduce Recurrence of Ankle Sprains in Female Soccer Players” J Athl Train. 1997 Jan-Mar; 32(1): 21-24.

In this study they looked at female collegiate soccer players who had previously injured their ankle. They were placed into one of four intervention groups: 1) a canvas, laced ankle brace, 2) taping, 3) a combination of taping and ankle brace, 4) no treatment. Results showed an ankle sprain recurrence frequency of 0% with an ankle brace, 25% taped, 25% combo, and 35% with no intervention. 

Greene, T., Hillman, S. “Comparison of support provided by a semirigid orthosis and adhesive ankle taping before, during, and after exercise” The American Journal of Sports Medicine. September 1990; Vol. 18 no. 5: 498-506.

This study looked at the relative effectiveness of athletic taping and a semirigid orthosis (brace) in providing inversion-eversion range restriction (amount of movement allowed at the ankle) before, during, and after a 3 hour volleyball practice. Results showed maximal losses in taping restriction for both inversion and eversion at only 20 minutes into exercise. The orthosis (brace) demonstrated no mechanical restrictive failure until after exercise and at that point only eversion range of motion was compromised.

Mickel, TJ., Bottoni, CR., Tsuji, G., et al. “Prophylactic Bracing Versus Taping for the Prevention of Ankle Sprains in High School Athletes: A Prospective, Randomized Trial” The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery. Nov-Dec 2006; Vol. 45 issue 6: 360-365.

This study showed there was no major differences in ankle sprain incidence between the ankle taping group and the semirigid ankle orthosis (brace) group. But, it did show that the cost of ankle taping was significantly greater than the cost of a commercially available brace.

So, of these three studies one shows a superior outcome using a canvas semirigid brace over taping, the other shows that semirigid braces maintain their rigidity for longer periods of time, and the third shows that while there was no major differences between outcomes of bracing vs. taping, bracing is substantially less expensive. Given this scientific information, we typically recommend a canvas, laced semirigid brace to athletes who have sustained an ankle injury and are transitioning back into their sport.

Brent Cordery, PT