Every year, tens of thousands of ankle braces are sold in North America. The purchasers of these braces have many different reasons for making their investment. However, whatever your reasons might be, many of you have one particular question on your mind – how long should you wear an ankle brace?
We will explore the answers to this question in this post. Generally speaking, if the ankle brace has been prescribed by a healthcare professional, the best answer to the question should come from that professional.
However, there are many other cases in which the ankle brace has been purchased without a specific prescription. In these circumstances, to answer the question of how long the brace should be worn, two things should be considered:
- The type of ankle brace purchased; and
- The reason for which the ankle brace has been purchased.
In what follows below, we set out to answer the question “how long should you wear an ankle brace” based on these two factors.
How Long Should You Wear An Ankle Brace?
We will first consider the question in relation to the type of ankle support known as an ankle sleeve. This type of ankle brace is normally purchased to address mild ankle instability or weakness. In other cases, the reason for the purchase may be a stiff ankle joint and the need to maintain joint suppleness via a supply of therapeutic warmth from the brace.
Ankle Instability Or Weakness
You may have purchased your ankle sleeve to treat an unstable or weak ankle. If so, it should probably be worn whenever you are about to engage in a physically strenuous activity that may place stress on the joint.
However, wearing the sleeve will merely protect your ankle from possible injury and will not address the underlying problem. If you are not undergoing physical therapy to treat the ankle weakness or instability, you should continue wearing the sleeve for the time being.
On the other hand, you may be undergoing a program of physical therapy exercises to reduce your ankle instability and strengthen the joint. In this case, our suggestion is that you only need to wear the brace until your physical therapist advises that your ankle is strong enough to withstand the demands of your particular sport.
Completion of the physical therapy program may require anywhere between several weeks to 3 months. The exact period will depend on your individual level of fitness. It will also (of course) depend on how closely you adhere to the physical therapy program prescribed to you. Whatever the period, once you have regained normal ankle range of motion, you can cease wearing the ankle sleeve.
Ankle Joint Stiffness
Another reason for wearing an ankle sleeve may be persistent stiffness of the joint. In this case, the sleeve will hopefully provide therapeutic warmth to the ankle soft tissues. In doing so, it will keep the ankle ligaments and tendons supple and reduce the risk of an ankle injury such as a sprain or strain.
If you are wearing your ankle brace for this purpose, we recommend wearing it before you start any sort of athletic activity. Ideally, you should consider wearing the sleeve whenever you are not sleeping, as this will provide maximum protection. But you should definitely wear it during any activity that can place stress on your ankle soft tissues.
In this case, the answer to the question “how long should you wear an ankle brace” is “as long as you plan regular participation in sports or other strenuous activities”.
Other Types Of Ankle Brace
Besides an ankle sleeve, you can purchase an ankle brace with straps, a stirrup brace or a lace up ankle brace. These ankle braces serve to provide higher degrees of lateral ankle support and protection against rolling your ankle.
There are 2 possible reasons for purchasing these types of ankle braces:
- You have suffered an ankle sprain and want to protect your ankle from further stress while it heals;
- You frequently play a sport that places heavy demands on your ankle and want to proactively protect it from injury.
Once again, the answer to”how long should you wear an ankle brace” depends on which of these reasons applies to you.
If you are wearing your ankle brace to treat an ankle sprain, you will need to continue wearing the brace at least until:
- your doctor confirms that your sprain is healed; and
- you feel no pain; and
- you have fully regained your original ankle range of motion.
This in turn will depend on the severity of the injury and your own fitness level. As we have mentioned above in relation to ankle instability or weakness, it will also depend on your willingness to comply with the treatment program your doctor has prescribed.
Having said this, a mild sprain may require as little as a few weeks to heal. However, a grade 3 sprain (with completely torn ligaments) can require as long as 3 or 4 months for full recovery.
Proactive Prevention Of An Ankle Sprain
Ankle braces can provide lateral support to the ankle. In doing so, they can help you avoid both inversion and eversion ankle sprains. Sports like basketball, football or tennis require frequent and sharp changes in direction and present a continual risk of ankle sprains.
It should be noted that activities that are not usually thought of as sports can also present threats to your ankles. Examples may include frequent hiking on rough or uneven surfaces. This type of activity can also result in ankle rolling and consequent inversion or eversion sprains.
Purchasing an ankle brace for protection while performing these types of activities is a quite reasonable (and indeed sensible) course of action.
If you have purchased your ankle brace for this type of protection, we recommend that you wear it for as long as you plan to continue participating in activities that cause stress to your ankles. Remember that you will need the protection from your brace even more as you age and your joints lose their original strength and suppleness.
In this post, we have presented a detailed analysis of the question “how long should you wear an ankle brace?”
By now, it should be clear that the answer to this question depends on the type of ankle brace you have and your reasons for wearing it.
It will also depend on your lifestyle and, in particular, on your activity level. If you frequently play sports or enjoy other activities that require stops, starts and sharp turns, your need for an ankle brace will continue for as long as you intend to continue participation in the activities.