Q: Should I wear an ankle brace to prevent a potential sprain?
A: Many athletes wear ankle braces, or tape the joint, thinking that it offers additional protection from injury. And to some extent it does. Braces and tape provide external support for the joint, increasing its stability and limiting the stress placed on ligaments and other stabilizing structures as you move. A brace can’t stop you from rolling your ankle when your land on your opponent’s foot after pulling down a rebound, but the stability it provides may reduce the severity of the injury.
Here’s the problem: although bracing adds support, it can also reduce activation in the small stabilizing muscles surrounding the ankle. Your body learns to rely on the brace for support, so the muscles and support structures that would naturally protect your ankle fail to fully develop. Because those muscles are weaker, your ankle is now more susceptible to injury—especially if you stop wearing the brace.
If you feel your ankles need protection, the best approach is a mixed one. When you know you’re going to go all-out in a game or practice, go ahead and armor up. But when you’re working out or doing light activity in a controlled environment, skip the brace and give those tiny activation muscles a chance to work.
If you’re worried about your ankle enough to be considering a brace, you should definitely be doing ankle-strengthening exercises.