UW Studies:Ankle Braces and High School Athletes

UW Studies: Ankle Braces Keep High School Athletes in the Game

When licensed athletic trainer Gary Premo urges his high school athletes to wear stabilizing ankle braces, he now has a very convincing argument why they should.

Results from two recent studies by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health show that high school basketball and football players who wore stabilizing lace-up ankle braces had 68 percent and 61 percent fewer injuries, respectively, than athletes who did not.

"The studies pretty much confirmed what I’d already figured out," said Premo, who works for Riverside Medical Center and serves the Waupaca and Weyauwega-Fremont schools. "Ankle braces definitely help reduce acute injuries, and I can now point to these studies."

Premo’s high school basketball and football players were among the athletes who participated in each of the studies. In the basketball study, the researchers gathered data on a total of 1,460 male and female basketball players from 46 high schools across Wisconsin during the 2009-10 basketball season. The players, all of whom voluntarily enrolled in the study, were randomly assigned to be part of a group that used braces (740 students) or a control group that did not (720 students).

Players in the control group sustained 78 acute ankle injuries, while players who wore the brace got only 27 similar injuries during the same amount of "exposures." An exposure, according to the study, was any coach-directed competition, practice or conditioning session.

"The research suggests that wearing lace-up ankle braces is a cost-effective injury-prevention strategy for adolescent basketball players," said Tim McGuine, UW Health Sports Medicine researcher, athletic trainer and lead author, in a press release. "Basketball has one of the highest rates for ankle injuries, and this study illustrates how a simple brace can help keep an athlete on the court."

The football study, meanwhile, included data from 2,081 football players from 50 Wisconsin high schools during the 2010 football season. Players in the control group sustained 69 acute ankle injuries, while players who wore the braces suffered only 27 similar injuries during the same amount of exposures.

"We were a part of the control groups in the studies," Premo said. "In basketball, we sustained six ankle injuries, and in football, we sustained three ankle injuries."

Both studies appeared in the September issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine. Each athlete who participated received a pair of ankle braces at the end of the studies. Premo said it is now his mission to strongly encourage all his players to wear them.

"Some players think the braces are too restrictive or that they will weaken their ankles," Premo said. "But that’s absolutely not true. If they don’t wear them, it’s not a matter of if they will be injured, but when."

Premo estimates that only about 30 percent of his athletes who play basketball, football, and volleyball now wear ankle braces.

"I’m going to keep encouraging our athletes and would love to see 100 percent wearing them," he added.