Should I tape or wear an ankle brace?

Posted on September 16, 2021 by James Slauterbeck, M.D.
James Slauterbeck, M.D.


Ankle braces and ankle tape both have advantages and disadvantages. In general, both are successful at decreasing the number and severity of ankle sprains. What really matters is the athlete’s access to a certified athletic trainer (ATC) or to the correct brace, which will drive the best outcome for ankle injury prevention. So, which is best?

The advantages of using ankle tape are individual treatment by an expert and the low profile of tape. The tape is best applied by an ATC right before an event starts and can be reapplied as needed. Ankle tape can fit each athlete and each injury condition. For example, lateral, medial and syndesmotic sprains can be addressed by different taping styles. The tape also can be layered differently to address injury prevention or to address specific injury conditions. A taped ankle can easily fit into a shoe, ski or hockey boot. Effective ankle taping is most often seen in large high schools with big budgets, college and universities and professional athletic teams.

The main disadvantages of ankle tape are the skill of the ATC applying the tape, the access of an athlete to an ATC and the length of time the tape remains effective. The art of applying ankle tape varies with the skill set of the ATC. Sometimes, the number of athletes who need taping far outnumber the available ATCs. This can lead to rushed tape application or can lead to application of the tape hours before a game. Less experienced athletes and athletes in most high schools do not have access to a personal ATC, and there may not be enough certified trainers at their school to handle the injured athlete assessments and to tape every athlete’s ankle.

The advantages of using an ankle brace include the application and reapplication of the brace, availability of different braces and overall costs. Ankle braces can be applied and tightened in practices and games by most athletes, family members or coaches. Different styles of ankle braces provide different levels of protection. Simple ankle sleeves warm the ankle, increase joint position awareness and provide a low level of protection. Lace up or Velcro braces provided more stability and is the brace used by most athletes. Lastly, hard clam shell braces provide extra stability and are most often used after serious injury or fracture. The cost of an ankle brace is approximately $20 to more than $100 and needs to be compared to the cost of taping and access to an ATC.

The disadvantages of using an ankle brace are the selection of the brace, the choice to tighten or reposition the brace (which is up to the athlete) and fit of the ankle brace in the shoe. The athlete must select the correct brace type based upon the injury or prevention strategy. The athlete may not remember to adjust or reposition the brace if it loosens. Lastly, the brace is bulkier than the taping and some individuals struggle with shoe wear over the braces. Ankle braces will not fit into hockey or ski boots.

If an athlete has access to an ATC that can provide individual care pre-game or pre-practice, then ankle tape is a great option. It is critical that the tape is reapplied as needed to ensure fit. If an athlete does not have these resources or opportunities, then a lace-up style brace is a great ankle injury prevention plan. All in all, ankles should be taped or braced to help decrease injury and increase performance. Ultimately, it is the athlete’s choice and both, when used appropriately, protect ankles.

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