Best Ankle Braces For Running
The foot and ankle look pretty simply from the outside, but the anatomy of the foot and ankle together are actually quite complex. Not only do they bear the weight of the entire body, but they need to be functional in locomotion as well, such as walking, jogging, running, and jumping.
The ankle itself can be thought of as the connection between your foot and shin. Movements of the ankle include dorsiflexion (bringing the foot up towards the shin), plantarflexion (pointing your toes down or standing on “tippy toes”), eversion (sole of the foot points out to the side), and inversion (sole points inwards towards other foot). Combined, all these movements provide relatively good flexibility to the ankle joint, which helps with movements throughout running.
However, the ankle joint also needs to be strong enough to resist forces that we aren’t expecting, as well as to keep us stable throughout walking and running. This means that many structures are involved in providing stability, such as lower leg muscles, intrinsic foot muscles, ligaments, retinacula, fascia, etc. These structures can therefore be prone to injury, as well as the bones themselves.
Reviews – Best Ankle Braces for Running
We’ll get straight to the point and provide our top picks for the best ankle braces for running. These ankle braces are not ranked in any particular order, as we provide an overview of many different styles and price ranges. What’s best for you will depend on the degree of your ankle or foot injury, as well as personal preferences and available budget.
If you injured your foot or ankle and are looking for an ankle brace, we highly suggest speaking with your physician or physical therapist first, as they will be able to directly assess your injury and potentially provide some helpful advice about what type of ankle brace will be best for your individual needs.
Below our reviews of these ankle braces, we have provided more information about ankle injuries in general, as well as more detailed information on the types of ankle braces and how they can be useful for different injuries, so feel free to explore that information as well.
This ankle compression sleeve is created by Run Forever Sports, and is meant to provide general compression to the foot and ankle area. This compression sleeve extends further down the foot than some other comparable compression sleeves, which is meant to also help with plantar fasciitis by providing compression to sole of your foot.
These compression sleeves are great for everyday use or providing a little added stability while running or playing other sports. They definitely will NOT prevent sprains from jarring movements, as the stretchy fabric material just isn’t enough to limit excessive joint motion from large forces. Therefore, we would recommend these for individuals who just need a little added comfort and support (maybe someone who previously suffered a very mild ankle sprain, or has chronic issues with plantar fasciitis), but can still perform their daily routine without one.
Lastly, these are convenient options, as they are quite comfortable, essentially a tight sock that can easily fit under your running shoes or any other footwear. These types of ankle compression sleeves represent some of the cheapest types of ankle braces, but again this is because they are pretty simple and don’t actually offer too much support. If you’re someone with a moderate-severe ankle sprain, or a history of ankle injuries that has led to substantial decreases in stability, we would recommend looking for something a little more robust, e.g. a lace-up or hinged ankle brace.
The ASO ankle stabilizer is a lace-up ankle brace that provides more support than an ankle compression sleeve. It’s slightly bulkier than an ankle compression sleeve, but it can still fit comfortable under running shoes, and given you receive a lot more support than a standard sleeve, it’s actually a great balance between comfort and support.
Depending on the nature of your injury, the ASO lace-up ankle brace could be a good option for runners who are in the later stages of rehabilitating an ankle injury, or for those with a history of ankle injuries leading to more overall joint laxity. It provides support in all directions, more so against twisting and eversion/inversion, and the straps can be adjusted to provide customized support.
It should be noted that the material is not rigid, and therefore the side supports are not considered hinges. Therefore, these lace-up ankle braces cannot fully prevent excessive motion due to jarring movements, but are definitely stronger than a compression sleeve. Therefore, if you are unsure about how much support you need, or if you aren’t fully confident in returning to activity, we definitely suggest talking to a physician or physical therapist before using one in your return to action. Lastly, if the ASO lace-up ankle brace interests you, check out the video below of how to put on a lace-up ankle brace, which features the ASO lace-up ankle brace.
The McDavid 195 ankle brace is very similar to the ASO ankle brace we reviewed above. They are both lace-up ankle braces, providing substantially more support than an ankle compression sleeve, but still minimal enough to comfortable fit under footwear.
For these reasons, both the McDavid and ASO lace-up ankle braces are arguably some of the best ankle braces for running. McDavid is backed by a strong reputation, and most of there braces in general are very well-liked by customers. Moreover, this brace has been used in scientific studies investigating ways to reduce ankle injuries, and the McDavid 195 ankle brace has shown some great results. For example, in a 2012 study, the McDavid 195 lace-up ankle brace reduced acute ankle injuries in basketball players by 68%. A Military Medicine study also showed that cadets who used the McDavid 195 were more likely to reduce their risk of ankle injury without affecting performance, making it an ideal brace to wear under boots.
Again, it should be noted that these types of lace-up ankle braces can’t completely eliminate the risk of injuring or re-injuring your ankle, but they definitely offer a great balance of lateral support and comfort, and for this reason, these are often considered to be the best ankle braces for running, especially if the running is typically performed on a somewhat even surface and basically in the forward direction, as opposed to cutting and other agile movements, albeit the previously mentioned study also showed some benefits in that regard as well. However, all of this depends on the nature of your injury, particularly the severity. Severe ankle injuries may require even more support.
Overall, this is an excellent lace-up ankle brace that simulates an athletic taping with a figure-6 design. The brace is highly adjustable, much of which can be adjusted without unlacing or taking off your shoe. The material is lightweight and relatively strong, and the brace can be switched back and forth from the left and right ankle as necessary.
The Active Ankle T1 hinged ankle brace is arguably the most popular hinged ankle brace, and is up there as one of the best ankle braces for athletes. The reason we say “true hinge” is because the bilateral supports are fully rigid, and a their joints, they connect to another fully rigid component. This means there is an absolute limit to your range of motion in the inversion/eversion movements, which will definitely reduce your risk of injury from rolling your ankle.
Not only could this be a good ankle brace for runners, but it’s also one of the best ankle braces for basketball players and volleyball players as well. It allows for a full range of motion in terms of plantarflexion and dorsiflexion, which is essentially for actions like running and especially jumping. However, the main downside is that it may take a little bit of getting used tot he rigid components, but most athletes find this to be worthwhile, as they are able to stay on the court with more confidence and a lesser chance of injuring or re-injuring their ankle.
For these reasons, this ankle brace is very well suited for runners and many other athletes, but again the primary support is on the sides of the ankle. This is the most common area for ankle sprains, but if you need something for chronic issues, for example plantar fasciitis, or your ankle injuries have been more complex than a standard sprain due to excessive inversion, you may want something with a more encompassing support, for example, the Zamst A2-Dx ankle brace that we reviewed below. However, if you have a a fairly significant history of ankle injuries, or a single injury that you would consider moderate to severe, you’re best off discussing with your doctor or physical therapist to pinpoint exactly what type of brace will be best for your individual needs.
Overall, this is a great bilateral hinged ankle brace for runners, basketball players, volleyball players, and other athletes. It provides full range of motion with plantarflexion and dorsiflexion, but at the same time, it supports the sides of your ankle, and with the fully rigid lateral supports, this facilitates an absolute endpoint to your lateral range of motion, which is great if you’re trying to prevent rolling your ankle, for example when landing from a jump.
In terms of lateral (side) ankle support, the Zamst A2-DX ankle brace is a step up from a lace-up ankle brace. It could almost be considered a hinged ankle brace, as the lateral supports are strong and rigid, but it’s technically not a true hinge as the area the support connects to is not fully rigid itself. Nevertheless, this ankle brace provides superior lateral support, an anatomical fit, and overall not-too-bulky design, making it ideal for many sports including running.
Zamst takes a lot of pride in this ankle brace, as they make sure to mention this ankle brace is worn by many basketball players in practice and games, including NBA star Stephen Curry. The i-Fit and a-Fit technology provide an anatomically correct fit, which can be difficult when including rigid components, and the Exo-Grid with Grip-Tech technology prevents the ankle from rolling inward or outward (inversion/eversion). Unlike a sleeve that can stretch a lot in these directions, the rigid supports prevent this type of motion even under large forces.
Overall, the Zamst A2-DX ankle brace is an excellent option for those looking to return to activity, but want something that will prevent them primarily from rolling their ankles inward or outward. This is one of the best ankle braces for basketball and volleyball, and is also suitable for running. If you have a history of very mild ankle sprains, this may be a little bit of overkill for running, but taking the mentality of “better safe than sorry” isn’t a bad idea in any case. If you want the most lateral support possible while still being able to run, then we feel comfortable calling this one of the best ankle braces for running.
What is an Ankle Sprain?
Whenever you see the word “sprain”, this typically signifies damage, partial tear, or full rupture of a ligament. For example, an ACL tear at the knee is classified as a sprain. Just to make things confusing, whenever you see the word “strain”, this represents damage, partial tear, or full tear to a muscle. For example, a quadriceps strain is tearing damage to the quadriceps muscle in the thigh.
Therefore, ankle sprains can occur anytime you stretch a ligament beyond its abilities. Ligaments are passive structures, meaning that they don’t actively contract like a muscle, and they connect bone to bone, usually crossing a joint.
The most common ankle sprains occur with ankle inversion. This is where the sole of the foot points inwards, which can be the case when you roll your ankle such that the lateral surface of your foot (outside part) is in contact with the ground and your foot keeps rolling over in that direction. This can be more common when landing from a jump, stepping onto an uneven surface (e.g. stepping on a root when trail running), or slipping of a sidewalk or curb.
Degrees of Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains, and any ligament sprain in general, can be classified according to their severity. In terms of ankle sprains, there are three classes of severity.
- 1st Degree (Mild): Stretching, or minor tearing of the ligaments, which causes the ankle to loosen.
- 2nd Degree (Moderate): More substantial tearing of the ligament that results in loosening of the ankle.
- 3rd Degree (Severe): Complete rupture of the ligament(s) that causes the ankle to be extremely loose and unstable.
Signs and Symptoms of an Ankle Sprain
The worst type of ankle sprains will involve complete rupture of the ligaments involved. As you can imagine, if you completely rupture a ligament that was once stabilization a particular joint, this joint will now be less stable and have a bit more movement in the direction that was previously being limited by the ligament.
However, chances are the affected area will swell up so much that you won’t notice the increased passive range of motion, and it’s definitely not recommended you try to move your ankle beyond what is comfortable (you will probably be in a good amount of pain anyway, so unlikely you will try this). In the case of a full rupture of a ligament that happens suddenly, you may hear a distinct “pop!” sound, which is typically of sudden ligament ruptures.
If you don’t hear a pop, this doesn’t necessarily mean the ligament is still intact, but many ligament tears are partial tears, so it’s a good sign if there is no popping sound. Even still, a partial tear can cause significant pain and swelling to the area, and you may not be able to place any weight on your foot, nor is that recommended.
Treating an Ankle Sprain
There are some very easy, practical, and common ways to treat many different types of ankle sprains. However, before we discuss these, we would like to make a quick note that while you can treat your own ankle sprain, we would not recommend self-diagnosing the degree of the sprain. Therefore, we highly encourage you to visit your physician or physical therapist to gain a better sense of how you can personalize your treatment and get back to running as soon as possible. In the mean time, you can keep these general guidelines for treating an ankle sprain in mind.
This acronym stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Of these factors, ice is probably the most important for treating an ankle sprain that occurred very recently.
Resting the ankle is likely the most intuitive way to treat an ankle sprain. Given that ankle sprains typically hurt a lot, especially when you try to put any weight on it, you shouldn’t have a problem staying off your feet for a little bit. Resting the ankle will give it time to heal properly without incurring any further damage, and it will also allow you to gain a better sense of degree of damage and precise location over time.
However, it is also important to keep in mind that rest is more beneficial early in recovery, whereas later stages of recovery will benefit highly from rehabilitative programs involving strengthening and range of motion exercises. In the mean time, if your ankle hurts too much and you can’t put weight on it, that’s a very good indication for necessary rest.
For any injury, when in doubt, always use ice. Ice is extremely effective at reducing swelling, which will help get some mobility back as well as reduce the pain. It’s important to keep in mind that ice can also numb the overlying skin, so you need to be really careful with how you apply the ice. Common items in the freezer like ice cubes, bags of frozen vegetables, or ice/gel packs if you have them, can all be practical ways of icing the ankle, but you need to have something in between the ice and your skin. Usually something like a thin towel or cloth is good for this, and you can adjust the amount of barrier as you see fit.
Many runners find it beneficial to perform cycles of icing the ankle. That is, applying ice to the affected area for 10-20 minutes, taking a break for 10 minutes, and repeat. For quick healing, it’s best to apply ice many times per day. Another trick you could use is filling a bucket with ice and cold water. This way you can simply place your foot in the bucket for 10-20 minutes, then take it out for a while (maybe on a towel next to the bucket), and repeat. This will provide extensive ice coverage of the foot and ankle as well.
Compression, such as that provided by an elastic wrap, can be an effective way of reducing swelling and treating an ankle sprain; however, evidence seems to indicate that elevation may be more effective than compression. Furthermore, if you are unfamiliar with wrapping an ankle, we suggest being careful with this, as you don’t want to place the ankle in an abnormal position for too long, and you also don’t want to aggravate the injury or cause yourself any undue pain.
Elevating the foot and ankle is an effective strategy for reducing swelling, and subsequently pain in the ankle. In this case, you’re basically letting gravity do the work for you. Instead of a normal sitting or standing position where blood is more likely to pool in the lower extremities (especially an injured foot and ankle), elevation will help disperse blood and facilitate removal of waster products. Many runners find this more effective than compression, and it can be fairly easy.
Perhaps the easiest and most practical way to elevate your foot and ankle is to lay on your back in bed or on the couch, pile up some cushions or pillows, and place your leg on the pile so that it is above the rest of your body. Just be careful not to cut off the circulation in your foot!
You don’t need to keep your ankle elevated for really long periods at a time. Instead, try 30-45 minutes at a time (or even a bit less), take a break and rest in a normal position that’s also comfortable for you, and repeat a few times throughout the day. This will allow your body to go through the normal healing process, with a little bit of intervention from you to help it along the way.
Braces for Ankle Sprains
Often times, an ankle brace is recommended to facilitate with recovery, and they can also be used as a method to help prevent ankle injuries, whether the ankle has been previously injured or not. Any bracing system, no matter what part of the body, is typically used to provide additional stability, or provide an absolute limit to the maximum range of motion in order to prevent extreme motions resulting in injury.
Most braces restrict eversion and inversion, which are by far the most common movements involved in ankle sprains, especially in runners. Interestingly, braces that provide some sort of compression can also facilitate proprioception, which can have the effect of getting your muscles used to sensing their environment again and becoming more coordinated.
Many runners and other athletes opt for some type of tape or elastic bandage, but again, this is better suited to those who have access to an athletic trainer or physiotherapist in order for it to be properly applied. Additionally, the restrictive strength of these systems can vary depending on who taped your ankle or how you taped your ankle, and they are also temporary, or at the very least, will stretch during activity and is less durable overall.
This is why many runners now elect to wear more robust ankle braces. When we say robust, we don’t mean bulky or heavy, but rather, stronger and providing a wider range of coverage to the ankle, and constructed with more durable material. While some ankle braces may appear as though they would hinder performance, studies have shown this is not typically the case, making a great argument for the use of ankle braces by athletes, whether it be runners, basketball players, volleyball players, or anyone else.
Types of Ankle Braces
There a few different types of ankle braces, and for the most part, the types of ankle braces that are most necessary for runners will depend on the type and severity of ankle injury. We will briefly discuss some of the different types of ankle braces so you can get an idea of what’s out there, and what could be optimal for your individual needs.
Compression Ankle Braces
These are probably the most simple ankle braces you can get. The are essentially sleeves made from some sort of elastic material, such as neoprene, and are useful for mild ankle sprains that aren’t too severe. It is important to note that while these compression ankle braces provide additional support and stability, they still allow a wide range of movement, and therefore may not totally resist movement beyond what is healthy for your ankle, especially if you are engaging in physical activity.
However, if you simply need a little added support for decreased risk of ankle sprains, perhaps after a very minor injury or flare-up, or during the very final stages of recovery, then a compression ankle brace could be a good option for runners. An added benefit to compression ankle braces is that they are usually fairly thin and can be easily worn with a pair of shoes, they are arguably the most comfortable braces, and they are usually interchangeable from the right ankle to the left ankle, so they shouldn’t hinder you in that regard.
Lace-Up Ankle Braces
Lace-up ankle braces are usually semi-rigid, in that they are made from a thin fabric and lace up over the front of the ankle. Many of these braces will have areas for you to insert more rigid pieces on the outside (lateral) or inside (medial) of the ankle, which can act sort of like a splint. These pieces should come with the ankle brace, so you shouldn’t have to worry about finding something around the house that works.
Often times, these lace-up ankle braces will be less elastic or stretchy than the compression ankles braces, but may still have some small degree of elasticity. Most of the compression involved will come from the lace-up system, of which there can be different styles. The lace-up braces should provide some sort of resistance in all movement directions, but won’t keep your ankle in a completely locked position.
Lace-up ankle braces are similar to compression ankle braces in that they can usually be switched between the left and right ankles without a problem. They are also pretty thin and can be worn under shoes, as the laces usually have a tie-up point higher up the leg than the shoe (so you don’t have laces bunching up under the tongue of your shoe). They provide a little more support than a compression ankle brace, but still aren’t completely resistive, so you could essentially consider the lace-up ankle brace as a step up from the compression ankle brace in terms of support.
How to Put On a Lace-Up Ankle Brace
Below is a video on how to put on a lace-up ankle brace, courtesy of Achilles Medical. Specifically, this is the ASO lace-up ankle brace that we reviewed above. Other decent lace up braces include the Ace Ankle Brace Lace Up, Venom neoprene ankle brace, and the Zenith ankle brace.
Hinged Ankle Braces
Contrary to popular belief, hinges braces are often classified as semi-rigid, so they aren’t just bulky mechanical systems that a lot of people envision. Hinged ankle braces are sort of like splints in that they provide lots of support on the sides of the ankle to really limit any type of eversion or inversion movement, which again, are by far the most common movements involved in ankle sprains. They usually don’t restrict ankle plantarflexion and dorsiflexion that much, which is nice if you still want to have good range of motion in these directions.
Hinged ankle braces are a little more bulky than lace-up ankle braces or compression ankle braces, but they can usually still fit under shoes with a decent degree of comfort. The hinged portion usually isn’t too thick because the material is strong enough as it is, and any other wrapping systems involved thin soft material or Velcro straps. So while not as bulky as many people think, we’re starting to get into braces that a re a little more substantial in terms of material.
Fully Rigid Ankle Braces
Fully rigid ankle braces are the most bulky of the ankle braces, but in exchange, they provide the most support, especially at the sides of the ankle. This style is perhaps the most true to a splint, and fully rigid ankle braces are highly used during the early stages of treatment when there is no added benefit from keeping the ankle moving or strengthening the muscles around it.
After a certain amount of time, the fully rigid ankle brace is usually swapped out for something a little more convenient that allows a bit of motion, for example, a lace-up ankle brace. Given this information, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that fully rigid ankle braces are often difficult to fit under shoes, at least comfortably. If you’re looking for a fully rigid ankle brace, for example, an ankle boot, chances are this is coming from directions from your doctor or physical therapist. If not, we would recommend chatting with one of those people first to make sure this is required for you, and if so, if there is anything else you should be doing for treatment as well.