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Effectiveness of external ankle support. Bracing and taping in rugby union

P A Hume, D F Gerrard
Sports Medicine 1998, 25 (5): 285-312
Ankle inversion sprain is common in rugby. This review outlines research evidence relating to the effects of external ankle support by means of bracing and taping, on the incidence of ankle injuries, how performance is affected by support, how support may act at the joint (with respect to end range of motion, strength, resistive torque, muscle activation patterns and proprioception) to prevent injury, and how exercise changes the effectiveness of support. In addition, the implications of the laws of rugby for the use of external support are discussed. Prospective epidemiological studies have shown a decrease in the incidence of ankle injury with external ankle support use. The effectiveness of external ankle support was dependent upon the material properties and application method of the tape or brace, and on the athlete's status of ankle stability or previous injury. Experimental studies have indicated that the degree of ankle inversion restriction provided, and the degree of loss of restriction after exercise, were dependent upon the external support tested. External ankle support has been reported to have no effect on performance, or to have an adverse effect on performance in a variety of movement tasks. No prophylactic external ankle support has been shown to improve performance. If an external support is to provide mechanical support to a ligament it should exceed the strength of the ligament, which for the anterior fibular ligament is a force limit of between 6 and 56 kg. Tape can provide only limited mechanical support of the ankle joint complex, but it may have proprioceptive effects. Taping may work as a psychological reminder, so that the athlete consciously moderates lower limb-loading behaviour. There is equivocal evidence of the effect of brace use on ground reaction force excursions, balance ability and ankle strength. It is concluded that while there have been many investigations of the effects of tape and some forms of brace on ankle range of motion with and without exercise, there is equivocal evidence regarding the mechanism by which an external support acts. It is recommended that future research address the effects of external ankle support during dynamic exercise and that brace manufacturers utilise the information in the development of future brace designs to help reduce the risk of ankle inversion sprain injury. As external support can decrease the incidence of ankle inversion sprain the International Rugby Board should consider the use of ankle braces in rugby, allowing for stiff lateral components of the brace.

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