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Choosing an ankle support depends largely upon what kind of injury has been sustained. Bandages, moderate support braces, maximum support braces, and walking boots are the most commonly used supports. There are also ankle supports used to stabilize and prevent injury.
The ankle is composed of the tibia, fibula, and talus bones. Three ligaments are attached to these bones: the talo-fibular ligaments, both anterior and posterior, as well as the calcaneo-fibular ligament. Together, the bones and ligaments make up the ankle joint.
The ligaments of the ankle allow motion within the joint as well as providing stability. Overstretching a ligament may result in a tear. This injury is known as a sprain. Sprains are categorized by the amount of damage to the ligament.
A Grade I sprain is quite common and is the least serious of these injuries. There is usually no actual tear in the ligament, but rather damage related to overstretching. A Grade II sprain will likely have a partially torn ligament. A Grade III sprain indicates a severe ligament tear resulting in instability of the joint.
An elastic bandage ankle support is used to compress the affected area without restricting movement. This type of appliance may be in the form of a long bandage or a pull-on sock. Often used for arthritis pain or Grade I sprains, this flexible brace offers comfort and stability. This ankle support may also be used to prevent injury for those with a weakened joint.
Moderate braces for ankle support are used for Grade II sprains or other ligament injuries. Often, these types of injuries cause pain when walking, stiffness, and swelling. The moderate ankle support offers more rigid panels to stabilize the ankle. Velcro or lacing is generally used for a customized, effective fit.
A maximum support ankle brace is used for severe injuries including Grade III sprains and ligament ruptures characterized by severe pain, acute swelling, and the inability to rotate the ankle. The goals of using this type of ankle support are to compress the area, allow ambulation with decreased pain, prevent the ankle from rotating inward or outward, and to offer support during rehabilitation.
A walking boot may be prescribed for fractures of the foot or ankle, Grade III sprains, or post-operatively for protection and support. The outer shell is typically rigid with padding of either a quilted breathable fabric or air-filled cells. Walking boots are generally fastened securely with Velcro straps. The bottom of the boot is usually fashioned with a rocker sole to decrease stress on the foot.
Don't underestimate the benefits of well-made shoes for the best ankle support. Shoes with weak support offer few benefits, and can actually lead to ankle injuries, especially for people who engage in rigorous activities like sports.
For slight ankle pain or a minor sprain, using an elastic fabric brace is best. It will provide support without being too restrictive, and will be comfortable to wear.