Following an ankle sprain, what external support (elastic bandage, taping, stocking, brace) is most effective?
Research reviewed: A Systematic Review on the Effectiveness of Different Functional Treatments for Acute Ankle Sprains (Kyaw, et al; Journal of sports medicine and doping studies, 2019)
This week’s paper - a systematic review - examined which external support (termed “functional treatment” by the authors) is most effective in improving pain, swelling, functional outcomes, range of motion and return to sport/work.
The authors reviewed peer-reviewed research from a 10 year period (2007 to 2017) in which external supports were used to treat acute ankle sprains. The four general categories of supports were elastic sock-like materials (eg. ace wrap bandage, stockings), adhesive and taping-like material (eg. ankle taping), soft canvas or nylon-like materials (eg. lace-up ankle brace), and firm supports made out of plastic materials (eg. semi-rigid or rigid ankle brace).
Results & practical takeaways
From this pooled research, the results were:
the stockings were more effective at at improving swelling, pain, range of motion, functional outcomes, and return to sport/work, along with a higher patient satisfaction than the bandage.
The semi-rigid or rigid ankle braces had better functional recovery and patient satisfaction, but some complications were present.
The taping and lace-up brace were the least effective, with the greatest prevalence of complications as well.
The key practical takeaways here are two-fold:
Stockings and semi-rigid or rigid ankle braces may be the best option when treating acute ankle sprains
Considering the price and availability of stockings, I’d recommend using them as the primary treatment option. The ideal is always seeing a trained medical provider but we all know that often doesn’t happen or isn’t possible (for a myriad of reasons)
Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with his clinical doctoral degree from Northern Arizona University and undergraduate in business and social welfare from UC-Berkeley. He's the owner of 3CBPerformance - providing sports medicine, performance, and mindfulness services online and in-person at clinics in West LA and Valencia, CA - with one simple north star: providing the highest level of individualized holistic care and wellness by developing long-term partnerships with client's to achieve their goals via simultaneously addressing multiple systems such as the musculoskeletal system, movement biomechanics, and the nervous system. Dr. Raj, DPT prides himself on being a multi-faceted provider with a background in coaching, sports science, strength and conditioning, research, and mindfulness enthusiast including online courses at UCLA's mindful awareness research center (MARC).