Ask the Expert – Bracing your ankle injury!
Q: Four months ago I rolled my right ankle playing basketball. My ankle swelled a great deal and it hurt to walk for several months. I did some physiotherapy which really helped and I can now run without pain. My physiotherapist tells me my ankle is stable but I worry that if I resume playing basketball that I may re-injure my ankle and do more damage. Will an ankle brace reduce my risk of re-injury or will it only weaken my ankle? Pte Dunk
Dear Pte Dunk: Ankle sprains are one of the most common sport-related injuries. Many people incorrectly think of them as relatively minor problems on par with a muscle strain. Ankles are in fact extremely complex structures and injuries to these joints can cause long term problems. Turning your ankle out is the most common way to sprain an ankle but they can also be sprained by turning your ankle inward or landing from a height. In all 3 cases, the ligaments that are supposed to hold your ankle together are subjected to more stress than they can handle and end up either strained, stretched or completely torn. The amount of damage you do will determine how long it takes to recover and whether you will be left with any long term problems
In your case, while your ankle is feeling much better, it will take approximately 9 months for the ligaments you injured to be as strong as they were before you injured them. Taking this into consideration, I recommend you wear an ankle brace whenever you do any activity that subjects your ankle to lateral stress – things such as basketball, soccer, tennis and ball hockey As long as you only wear your ankle brace when you do these types of activities, the structures around your ankle will not weaken.
The bottom line: the best way to deal with ankle sprains is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. This can be achieved by strengthening the muscles that support your ankle, improving your balance and improving your sport specific skills. Research has also shown that wearing an ankle brace when you play sports that subject your ankle ligaments to stress will reduce your risk of future injury. This is true whether or not you have ever sprained ankle. All the best next basketball season.
Dr. Darrell Menard OMM, CD, MD (former Physical Education Officer at RMC) now a Sport Medicine Physician