Lead an Active Lifestyle? Give Your Ankles Proper Support

How can you help your ankles to keep you on your feet? By giving them the support they need, from the ground up.

The ankle consists of three main bones: the tibia, fibula and talus bones. The foot has 38. The joints that allow all these bones to move in a coordinated way are held in place by strong ligaments, tendons, muscles and connective tissue. The ankle carries the weight of the entire body as it walks, runs, dances, kicks, balances, plays sports and does a thousand other activities every day. 

It's no surprise then that approximately 25,000 people sprain an ankle every day. Emergency doctors are seeing increasing numbers of patients with fractured ankles, especially among older adults who stay active longer than previous generations. There are countless cases of Achilles tendonitis and arthritis of the foot and ankle. While most ankle sprains heal within weeks and fractures, within a few months, it sometimes takes years before the ankle fully recovers from injury and it may remain at increased risk for re-injury.

The best way to prevent ankle injury is to give them the support they need.  Start by wearing the right shoes for your foot type and the activities you participate in. Arch support is key. When arches aren't supported properly, the foot compensates by rotating inward or outward, which puts stress on the ankle. Ask a footwear specialist, podiatrist or orthopedic physician to evaluate your foot type, arches and gait.  Purchase over-the-counter or custom-fitted orthotic arch supports if recommended.

The jury is out on "high-top" versus "low-top" sports shoes to properly support the ankle. Some experts say sport shoes that cover the ankle provide better support, especially for sports that require frequent twists and turns like basketball.  Others say high-tops restrict natural ankle movements, which puts the ankle at high risk for injury. Ask a sport shoe specialist for their advice when buying a sport-specific shoe.  

If you already have unstable ankles, chronic ankle pain, a history of injury, or you participate in activities that put your ankles at high risk for injury, you may need to give your ankles extra support. That's when an ankle brace might be helpful. There are many options available:

  • Elastic wraps. The cheapest, easiest solution may be wrapping the ankle snugly (but not tight enough to constrict circulation) with an elastic bandage. Start above the ankle and continue the wrap to include the foot. Elastic wraps can be reused and washed.
  • Taping. Many athletes prefer athletic tape to elastic wraps because it provides flexible but firmer support. Athletic tape is inexpensive for single use, but can't be reused. If you need to support your ankles frequently, this option can really add up.
  • Over-the-counter ankle braces are re-usable, don't require any skill in wrapping and aren't bulky.
  • Flexible styles either slide on like a sock or wrap around the foot and ankle to provide snug support. Some have adjustable straps to provide a customized fit.
  • Rigid styles have hard plastic sides and adjustable air cells to add secure support and protection.

If over-the-counter options don't offer enough protection, an orthopedic physician may order customized ankle supports. Ankle supports are only intended to prevent injuries and support healing. They're not intended as a replacement for physical therapy, rehabilitation and/or medical care. If your ankles aren't naturally giving you the support you need, see your physician.  


American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society

Ankle Instability


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Press Release: Sports Related Foot and Ankle Injuries on the Rise