The ankle is the body’s most fragile joint when it comes to intense sports like volleyball and is the most injured as well. As per the data provided by National Athletic Trainer’s Association regarding sports injuries, approximately 24% of injuries in volleyball are ankle related. Now, this part solely supports 1.5 times the entire body weight, and the nature of volleyball demands players to jump high, which puts a lot of pressure and stress on the ligament. Thus, keeping the ankles healthy and safe from injuries is extremely important for volleyball players.
There are many things that can help prevent ankle injuries, such as using proper shoes, correct training, warm-ups, etc., but nothing can eliminate the chances. Then comes the need for proper recovery and prevention of further injuries, which is done with therapy, braces, and rehabilitation exercises. This article discusses ankle braces and has curated information, including their advantages and needs. If you are a volleyball player or a curious reader, by the end, you’ll have enough information to decide whether braces are for you. So, stick around and polish your knowledge about volleyball ankle braces.
How do ankle braces work?
An ankle brace is a protective equipment worn around the ankle to prevent specific movements. The basic idea behind such braces is to prevent initial injuries, help in recovery and prevent further injuries. Once a player gets injured in the ankle, there are high chances of reinjury within a short period. Braces reduce the chances of such reinjuries by limiting the movements of the ankle and supporting it for the required level of activities to recover. The compression on the inner and outer side of the ankle does not allow the foot to turn inwards, which prevents sprains while allowing comfortable movements up and down.
The braces compress the area around ligaments and joints to reduce swelling and pain and help in increasing joint position sense via compressing. The sensors in the ankle joint and muscles that get injured, along with the joint, work better when compressed and thus help prevent further injuries by sending proper signals to the brain regarding the position.
Types of ankle braces
Ankle braces are used for several purposes that concern the ankle. They provide compression around the sprained area and joint, stability, prevent further injuries and excess ankle movements, and facilitate performance while a player is recovering from an injury. Considering all these benefits, different types of ankle braces focus on different issues. A player that wishes to prevent initial injuries has different needs than a player recovering from an injured ankle. These different needs are thus met by different ankle braces. Here are the commonly used types of braces that perform various functions.
Also known as elastic support, these braces provide little support and relief in case of minor pain and when compression is needed. These are lightweight and can be easily worn and removed when not needed. As the only function is to provide a little bit of compression around the ankle, these do not prevent full ankle movement. The player can rotate the ankle to its full range and perform all the activities without any problem, making these unsuitable for major injuries where ankle rotation needs to be prevented.
Ankle lace up
As the name suggests, these braces have laces that can be adjusted according to the player’s needs. These provide good stability around the ankle, making them helpful in preventing and recovering from sprains. The lace feature makes them customizable, as these can be adjusted for different sizes. The design is available with different material thicknesses; thus, these can be worn with volleyball shoes without an uncomfortable or stuffy feel. But the negative point is that the lace-up design gives a false sense of support to the wearer and hinders the natural movement of the ankle, which weakens the ankle muscles over time.
The ankle sleeves have a limitation in that they do not allow adjustments and are less supportive. Strap braces solve this problem. These are similar to sleeves but have straps that can be adjusted to provide different support levels without being bulky when worn with shoes. The straps are in a criss-cross manner that provides good stability around the ankle joint. Though it takes time for a player to find a comfortable level of adjustment for his needs, these are good in relieving the pain caused by a sprain.
Rigid ankle brace
These braces are designed for post-injury protection and provide more compression around the ankle to reduce swelling. The rigid braces do not let the ankle move and are thicker than other types to facilitate the treatment of severe sprains and injuries. These can be in different variations, including lace-ups and air casts.
Hinged ankle braces
Hinged ankle braces provide moderate support to the ankle and are suitable for preventing sprains and ankle turning. These are made of semi-rigid plastic and allow up-and-down ankle movement, allowing the player to jump without restriction. The design involves a pivoting joint that connects the bottom part of the foot to the vertical section and is secured to the lower leg using a strap.
Hinged-cuff ankle braces
These are the upgraded version of hinged ankle braces. Hinged-cuff ankle braces provide close support to the ankle while allowing full movement. These are used to get moderate ankle instability for acute injuries. This brace is worn over the socks and provides good support and comfort. The design is similar to the hinged braces, with a cuff surrounding the lower leg’s back part.
Things to consider
After understanding the functions a player needs his ankle brace to perform, a few things can affect the buying decision further. Apart from the immobility, stability, and comfort the braces provide, if these hamper the player’s need because of some other factors, the healing and prevention of injuries will not be very easy. Below are a few points to keep in mind.
Finding the right size
Braces are meant to support the ankle and immobilize the movements that can lead to injuries while allowing free up and down movement. Thus, size is a significant factor when it comes to choosing a good brace. Where a very tight brace will make it uncomfortable or even more painful for the player to continue his regular movements, a loose one will not provide the support required to prevent or heal an injury. So, check the size chart before ordering and try the braces with shoes to be worn on the court. For a custom fit, lace-up braces can be used as they are adjustable.
Material of the brace
Choosing the material for ankle braces is essential as it affects the comfort of players on the court. The fabric should be strong to last longer and breathable to allow good airflow. The best materials used in these are supportive, flexible, breathable, soft, stretch and lightweight. The brace material can be hydramesh fabric, neoprene fabric, or spandex based on the different features they provide. Also, the fabric should be skin friendly such as later-free, to prevent allergies or rashes.
Level of injuries
Braces can be used to prevent an injury or heal minor or severe injuries. The choice of selecting a brace thus depends on the level of injury. For severe injuries, the brace must provide good stability, immobility, and compression provided by rigid braces. For preventing an injury or getting support for mostly healed injuries, ankle straps are ideal as they allow a full range of movements and compression at the same time.
Benefits of using ankle braces
Going through an ankle injury can be a nightmare for every volleyball player, especially during important matches and the peak time of their career. Not only is the injury painful and does not allow a player to perform to the best of his abilities, but it also raises the risk of reinjury after recovering once. Thus, prevention is better than cure, and once it happens, mindfulness regarding healing is also essential. Braces not only help in reducing the chances of initial injuries but also facilitate healing. Below mentioned are the benefits of using braces for a volleyball player.
Help in reducing swelling
Swelling is the immediate result of getting the ankle sprained because of an inverted movement while jumping and rapidly moving around the court. It puts pressure on the foot and, if not treated well, can lead to a significant issue for a more extended period. The braces provide compression around the ankle, ultimately relieving the pain and reducing swelling in a few days.
Allow protected movement
Moving the ankle is an integral part of recovering from an ankle injury. Using braces, the movement is done in a protected manner. While immobilizing the sensitive areas, braces allow foot movement to a certain level, preventing ankle muscles from weakening over time. If the foot movements are avoided for a very long time, the player will need to go through the stress of balancing the strength of both feet, which will further take time.
Even after successfully recovering from an injury, the ankle ligament becomes fragile and prone to future injuries. Using ankle braces keeps reminding the brain about the possible outcomes of specific movements. This helps the player keep checking his activities and prevent intense movements that may result in another injury.
Alternative of braces
An effective alternative to ankle bracing is ankle taping, in which athletic tape stabilizes the ankle ligaments. Similar to braces, taping also helps prevent initial and reinjury and facilitates healing. The taping process involves multiple steps beginning with preparing the ankle for taping, spraying adhesive, applying heel pads and ankle strips, and taping the targeted areas of the ankle one by one, following repairing the gaps. Though taping is a good alternative that relieves pain, it has some disadvantages. As the process is very strategic and requires knowledge of targeted areas, it can become harmful if performed incorrectly.
Unlike braces, taping does not allow size and pressure level customization. It restricts movements and affects performance. The multiple layers of tape around the ankle and the ankle pads make it feel bulky inside the shoes and require the player to learn to balance the differences with drills. Also, as the compression provided by taping increases circulation in the targeted area, it can become dangerous for some players. The adhesive and tape fabric can also negatively affect people with sensitive skin.
Ankle braces primarily facilitate the early warning detection system of the body to prevent injuries by reminding the brain when the ankle joint seems to be going beyond its ability and range of motion and can lead to sprains. Thus, these have an essential role in helping players when they forget the need to keep their motion in check. Shared above are the types of braces that are suitable for different injury and player needs. An advantage of these is the wide range of designs and adjustability. Braces became popular among volleyball players over taping because of their cost-effectiveness and ease of usage. Though there are a lot of options available out there, consulting a specialist is necessary to understand the recovery needs.