Volleyball Ankle Braces- Opinions from Sports Medicine Experts

posted Jan 7, 2018, 11:08 AM by Ashley Lee

What side of the net do sports medicine experts land on when discussing volleyball ankle braces?

There little doubt that ankle sprains are the most common acute injury in indoor volleyball.

Photo courtesy of USAVolleyball

Photo courtesy of USA Volleyball

The debate begins when recommending for or against the use of volleyball ankle braces.

I’m going to review this subject by first listing some studies about volleyball ankle braces. More importantly, I will tap the awesome collective wisdom of my USA Volleyball Sports Medicine colleagues Aaron Brock, ATC and Jill Wosmek, ATC. Aaron works with Men’s National Teams and Jill was with the Women’s National Team for two Olympic cycles.

I am not going to review ankle taping, since many athletes do not have access to proper ankle tape applications by athletic trainers. Also, even when taping is done well,  most protective effect is lost after 30 minutes of application.

The majority of ankle sprains are when the ankle inverts (rolls in). This most often occurs with play at the net where athletes make contact with another players foot when landing from a jump. The theory behind volleyball ankle braces is to reduce abnormal ankle motion. Some fear that depending on volleyball ankle braces might weaken lower leg muscles and increase knee injury risk.

I do not endorse or have any investment in particular types of volleyball ankle braces. I will only list particular brands and makers if they were mentioned in studies. All expressed opinions are our own.  They do not represent official policy of USA Volleyball or any other group or employer.

What does the medical literature say about volleyball ankle braces?

  • prospective study of high school players concluded that two types of volleyball ankle braces (Active Ankle Trainer II and Aircast Sports Strirrup) protected players who never had ankle sprains. They however did not prevent subsequent sprains in players with a past history of sprain.
  • Moving up to the collegiate ranks, prophylactic use of double-upright padded volleyball ankle braces significantly reduced the injury rate.
  • Focusing more on female volleyball players, technical and proprioceptive training were effective methods on preventing ankle sprains in athletes with four or more ankle sprains.  Volleyball ankle braces were more effective only in those with less than four past injuries
  •  Elite volleyball players with recurrent sprains who underwent technical training (emphasized proper take-off and landing technique for blocking and attacking) and balance board work enjoyed a twofold reduction in new ankle injury
  • Limited evidence suggests that ankle braces do not increase the risk of knee injuries. Addressing strength of leg and hip muscles along with limited ankle dorsiflexion  may be a sensible prevention strategy.

What do my expert volleyball medicine colleagues have to add about volleyball ankle braces?

As Director of Sports Medicine and Performance and Head Men’s Athletic Trainer for USA Volleyball, Aaron Brock has the following insight:

  • The great majority of ankle sprains seen with the US Men’s National Team have been to the unprotected ankle.
  • No conclusive evidence exists that ankle braces adversely affect on court performance
  • It is still possible to sprain an ankle while wearing ankle braces but the risk is significantly diminished. Also, ankle sprains while wearing braces usually result in a less severe sprain.
  • In his opinion, the best way to prevent ankle injuries is the use of ankle braces

As the former Head Athletic Trainer for the USA Women’s National Team, Jill Wosmek offers her professional recommendations:

  • Type of shoe is also important.  Find a proper heel position that isn’t “too high” as lower heels reduce side to side ankle motion.
  • For younger players, she recommends braces. The type of volleyball play is more chaotic and the athletes are not as strong
  • Many college teams have bracing/taping as team rules that influence decisions
  • On the US Women’s National Team, the majority do not tape or brace. One must realize that level of play is higher, under net collisions are limited, more time is spent in strength and proprioceptive training