‘Ankle braces will weaken your ankles mate, don’t stay on them too long’. I don’t know when or how this myth started, but guys, it ain’t true. We play Volleyball. We jump at the net, surrounded by many other people, land from crazy heights, into even more dangerous positions, feet are everywhere, uncoordinated idiots jumping under the net…please, protect your ankles.
What is Proprioception?
Proprioception is an important sense in the body. Unlike, sight, touch, hearing taste and smell, it focuses on only internal feedback from the body. Proprioception is the process by which you body can vary muscles contraction in immediate response to incoming information about your body in space. It is basically a sensory feedback for muscle control and posture.
So why don’t they weaken your ankles?
OK, I get the reasoning behind everyone’s assumption that long-term ankle brace usage will cause ankle weakness. I hear a lot that it is doing the work for your ankle, so your ankle becomes detrained and won’t perform the proprioception itself. I get it, yeah, but it’s wrong. Let me try and explain.
Most people reading this would have worn an ankle brace at some stage in their career. Firstly you simply cannot take away your body’s proprioception. When you move in an ankle brace, your ankle still has to do a lot of work. You haven’t surrounded your ankle with a new joint and voila, no more ankle activation. When you land, or move, your ankle still must correct itself, and your proprioception is still very much hard at work. Your ankle will move a fair bit in the brace, and lots of forces will be applied, so in a healthy ankle the muscle spindles and Golgi tendons will be getting a fair workout. The fact of the matter is, that bracing will actually work to enhance your proprioceptive input, not override it.
All ankle braces are doing for you, is stopping you ripping the crap out of your ankle, shattering every bone, snapping all the ligaments and ending your career. OK, over dramatic, but you get the point? An ankle brace will not dull your senses; it will simply prevent a real disaster occurring. If you are going to go over your ankle badly, you probably will in an ankle brace anyway, it just means that the severity of the injury is a lot less.
Don’t believe me? Fair enough. I get that. But there are numerous studies supporting me.
Mitchell et.al (2000) did a study on the effects long-term ankle bracing has on the Peroneus Longus (muscle around the ankle) during sudden inversion in normal subjects. They did the study because
“ankle bracing in a healthy ankle over a sustained period has been scrutinized due to possible neuromuscular adaptations resulting in diminished dynamic support offered by the peroneus longus muscle. Although this claim is anecdotal in nature, we sought to investigate the effects of long-term ankle bracing using 2 commonly available appliances on Peroneus Longus latency (edit: time delay between and effect on the muscle and a reaction to that effect) in normal subjects. Our second purpose was to evaluate the effects of ankle bracing on Peroneus Longus latency before a period of extended use”
Their results? Ankle bracing had no effect on the latency of the Peroneus muscle. Short term or long term. Nothing at all.
“The duration of the Peroneus Longus stretch reflex (latency) is neither facilitated nor inhibited with extended use of an external ankle support. Proprioceptive input provided by the muscle spindles within the Peroneus Longus does not appear to be compromised with the long-term use of ankle braces.”
Feuerbach et.al (1994) also did a study looking at the effect of ankle orthosis (bracing) on ankle joint proprioception. The found that using an ankle brace would actually increase the feedback from your internal receptors, and will lead to an improved ankle joint position sense.
Nishikawa and Grabiner (1999) did a very similar study. They also found that application of the ankle brace excited the receptors, most likely those that are to do with the skin. Meaning bracing led to better proprioception and joint sense; helping make the candidates more aware. They also showed that Peroneus Longus latency was not affected at all by ankle brace use. They noted that this is very important for rehabilitation purposes, as an injured ankle needs to work on proprioception, and bracing may help to excite and stimulate that.
Sorry for the the technical crap, but now you have some evidence.
There has got to be some negatives to bracing…
Speaking recently to Aussie Libero Phill DeSalvo and my roommate with vastly improving hip mobility, Sarah, both have a different view on the ankle brace. A very very high percentage of ankle sprains in Volleyball occur at the net. Now, if you are a libero and you are jumping to spike or block at the net, then you don’t know what you are doing, are in violation of a lot of rules, and should hand your different coloured shirt in. The point is, ankle injuries occur when jumping and landing, Liberos rarely jump or land. In fact, some feel that they maybe limit their range of motion a little. There is no evidence to support this, but it is a feeling held by quite a few liberos. As you try to get into a deep side lunge, the ankle brace can inhibit that slightly as your ankle obviously doesn’t have as much range. Some players also find that they don’t fit well with their shoe, or are simply uncomfortable. Try taping! Just a little food for thought on the negative aspect of bracing.
Some very good reasons to wear braces
You jump. A lot. Surrounded by a few people. You land in the same environment. Yes, in elite Volleyball there are much less uncoordinated players unable to halt their momentum and jump under the net, but at even slightly lower level, it does become a little dangerous!
To put it simply, there are very little reasons not to wear an ankle brace. You won’t weaken your ankles, just won’t happen. So you can take that out of your mind when making your decision. I know as a coach, if one of my players did their ankle and wasn’t in a brace, my sympathy would be waning. The nature of the sport is one in which ankle sprains are common. Let’s try and prevent them a little hey, seems a stupid reason to miss games.
When you sprain your ankle, you lose some of your proprioceptive ability and muscle control. You have to retrain it with proprioception exercises to get it back to full functioning. This is a pretty tough gig and a lot of people don’t do it so well. We will have a post in the future on ankle proprioception exercises that can help you get back to full functionality.
Anyway, the point is, when you are returning to play, your ankle proprioception is still a little wayward, even though you are nearly back to full strength. Ankle brace or taping is imperative at this stage, as you are much more likely to do your ankle. In fact, for other sports, its recommended after an ankle injury that some sort of protection be worn for up to 6 months whilst you are trying to regain full or near to full proprioception.
Keep in mind that the best way to rehab a bad ankle is to do stuff without braces. When doing your fitness work, and proprioception training there is no need for them. You aren’t landing amongst people and have no need to wear them, a similar principle and argument for a libero not needing to wear them. Since they have very little effect on the proprioception of a joint, other than to create more awareness in certain situations, and there is no risk involved when doing balance training, lowering exercises and general ankle strengthening work outside of Volleyball play, keep them off.
Bracing is very much an individual choice. However quite a lot of teams, especially at higher levels do require that braces are worn by everyone during games and trainings, as they simply don’t want to lose players. When factoring in your decision to wear a brace or not, please remember that you aren’t going to detrain your ankles, just help prevent a serious injury.
Ouch, check this out…(nope she wasn’t wearing a brace!) Don’t forget to vote on our poll in the sidebar!