Brace Yourself? Maybe Not

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Sports Medicine

Ankle braces are great at preventing athletic injuries. Or are they?


In the first study of its kind to focus on high school basketball players, a pair of researchers with University of Wisconsin Sports Medicine will try to answer that question with hard scientific data. They'll spend the upcoming season tracking ankle brace use among high school basketball players to determine whether the braces reduce injury rates.


Fifty high schools across Wisconsin have signed on to participate in the study. At least 20 of the schools will receive lace-up ankle braces, and basketball players at those schools will wear them in all practices and games. The other schools will practice and play as they normally do - some players will wear braces and others won't.


"Ankle injuries are one of the most common types of injuries, especially among high school basketball players," says Dr. Alison Brooks, a UW sports medicine physician who is heading up the study along with UW sports medicine researcher and athletic trainer Tim McGuine. "Once an athlete has sustained an injury, rehab and a brace can reduce the risk of re-injury. There's no evidence that it prevents injuries."


In fact, the opposite may be true: There is some evidence that using an ankle brace preventively can actually lead to other problems, including ankle weakness, lack of mobility, and even an increased risk of knee and hip injuries.


McGuine and Brooks will compile and examine injury data in March, once basketball season is complete.


"If we find braces are effective at injury prevention, we might recommend them," says Brooks. "If they aren't effective, something like having the athletes undergo balance training to strengthen their ankles and knees could be a better approach."


The study is funded by the UW Department of Orthopedics Research and the UW Sports Medicine Classic Research Fund. McGuine and Brooks hope to do a similar study involving Wisconsin high school football players for the 2010 season.