August 27, 2008

Active Ankles Question

From one of our readers:

Hola Coach!
I’ve heard mixed comments regarding the regular use of ‘active ankles’ or braces. Our daughter has been wearing them over the past couple years, with no injuries.. Recently, a coach (former D1 coach) mentioned to her that it may weaken her ankles if she wears them unless needed. When researching this I find countless articles stating the complete opposite. Can you please offer your opinion on this?

First of all, 'hola' back to you (my first non-English salutation!). Active Ankles (the Xerox term for all ankle support equipment) is an interesting option.

By and large the conversation centers upon two alternatives - They do a great job preventing ankle injuries - or - They weaken the muscles of the ankle because the brace does the work.

My belief is that there is more truth to the first statement than the second; but there is truth to the second statement. Any coach who has seen an athlete roll or 'tweak' their ankle with an Active Ankle device in place can see that the injury could have been worse (sometimes much worse). The Active Ankle will not prevent the sprain from happening, just lessen the severity (hopefully).

The Active Ankle is just the quick version of taping the ankle - like so many players did before Active Ankle came out (by the way, can you imagine the cash flow?). The argument was/is the same with taping the ankle - some believe it helps, while others think it weakens ankles.

I would expect there is also a placebo effect - Many athletes are not 'comfortable' without feeling the Active Ankle in place. Conversely, I have had players tell me they fell 'restricted' with the support brace on their ankles. With my time before the invention of the product, I would probably not like wearing them.

The argument about the muscles becoming weak and thus contributing to a sprain severity, I have less support for - yes, the muscles may 'weaken' because the brace supports some movement, but I non-scientifically don't feel it is a big impact. If a player lands incorrectly, no matter if your ankle muscles area are strong as the Incredible Hulk's, you will sprain the ankle - these are small muscles geared for stability, not power (like a quadriceps).

Where I do believe an Active Ankle would create an negative impact is in a recovery or rehab situation. In cases where an athlete is coming back from a sprain, they need to be able to work these small muscles of the ankle to increase stability and lateral quickness, and the Active Ankle may hinder or slow down this process - Not every player has a full time trainer and a top flight training room to do this rehab before putting on the support brace.

Just to throw a wild-card out there for you to ponder - some coaches believe that Active Ankles contribute to knee injuries. The belief being that if since the ankle was not allowed to roll or was restricted from turning over, the stress of the injury travels up the leg to the next joint; the knee. I know some coaches who do not let players wear devices or tape, unless they are in a recovery situation. I think there may be some merit to this argument, but I can't put my weight behind supporting it.

What I tell my team is that the choice is theirs. They know their body and mentality best. Make the choice and go forward!