People with chronic ankle instability benefit from brace application in highly dynamic change of direction movements

Patrick Fuerst, Albert Gollhofer, Markus Wenning, Dominic Gehring
Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 2021 February 17, 14 (1): 13

BACKGROUND: The application of ankle braces is an effective method for the prevention of recurrent ankle sprains. It has been proposed that the reduction of injury rates is based on the mechanical stiffness of the brace and on beneficial effects on proprioception and neuromuscular activation. Yet, how the neuromuscular system responds to the application of various types of ankle braces during highly dynamic injury-relevant movements is not well understood. Enhanced stability of the ankle joint seems especially important for people with chronic ankle instability. We therefore aimed to analyse the effects of a soft and a semi-rigid ankle brace on the execution of highly dynamic 180° turning movements in participants with and without chronic ankle instability.

METHODS: Fifteen participants with functional ankle instability, 15 participants with functional and mechanical ankle instability and 15 healthy controls performed 180° turning movements in reaction to light signals in a cross-sectional descriptive laboratory study. Ankle joint kinematics and kinetics as well as neuromuscular activation of muscles surrounding the ankle joint were determined. Two-way repeated measures analyses of variance and post-hoc t-tests were calculated.

RESULTS: Maximum ankle inversion angles and velocities were significantly reduced with the semi-rigid brace in comparison to the conditions without a brace and with the soft brace (p ≤ 0.006, d ≥ 0.303). Effect sizes of these reductions were larger in participants with chronic ankle instability than in healthy controls. Furthermore, peroneal activation levels decreased significantly with the semi-rigid brace in the 100 ms before and after ground contact. No statistically significant brace by group effects were found.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on these findings, we argue that people with ankle instability in particular seem to benefit from a semi-rigid ankle brace, which allows them to keep ankle inversion angles in a range that is comparable to values of healthy people. Lower ankle inversion angles and velocities with a semi-rigid brace may explain reduced injury incidences with brace application. The lack of effect of the soft brace indicates that the primary mechanism behind the reduction of inversion angles and velocities is the mechanical resistance of the brace in the frontal plane.

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