When an athlete performs any movement–whether running or jumping–the ankle and surrounding muscles are put under a great deal of stress. Ankle ailments are the second biggest issue that confronts roller derby athletes right after knee ailments. Injuries to the foot and ankle are some of the most common injuries among skaters because we must use our ankles to navigate across wood or concrete, make turns, jumps, and quick stops that can lead to injury. The most common ankle injury is the lateral ankle sprain which most frequently happens after landing improperly after a jump or turn. Skaters also are more susceptible to high ankle sprains because they twist and turn their ankles. This sprain type can be difficult to heal due to a poor blood supply to the area. Some people with repeated or severe sprains can develop long-term joint pain and weakness.
An ankle sprain occurs when ligaments that connect the bones in the foot, ankle, and lower leg are stretched or torn. An ankle sprain usually happens when you make a rapid shifting movement with your foot planted. The ankle rolls outward and the foot turns inward in what is called an inversion injury. It results in stretching and tearing of the ligaments that connect the bones in the foot, ankle, and lower leg on the outside of the ankle.
As a person who has suffered from Ankle issues her entire derby career, numerous ankle supports have been tried in various points in my career. The main thing you need to remember when you look for ankle supports is exactly what are you looking for in protection. This author previously ruined her ankles playing second base in softball for numerous years, spraining both ankles numerous times and breaking her right ankle at one point. So playing a sport where using your ankles is a must, probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world. Even with that history, she started at the lowest level of protection and worked her way up. Initially jumping to the highest level of protection does nothing but weaken your ankles and make you dependant on the ankle support for balance and support.
There are 3 different types or levels of protection that are available for your ankles depending on your needs:
· Level 1 is mainly for minor pain, sprains and instabilities.
· Level 2 is for minor ligament pain and instabilities.
· Level 3 is for for moderate instabilities and pain, previous ankle breaks and severe sprains and to help prevent re-injury
Level 1 ankle supports are usually neoprene based compression sleeves or ace bandages and wraps. These supports provide soft tissue support via compression and promote healing via therapeutic heat provided by that compression. A lot of people use level 1 ankle supports incorrectly. If your boot is rubbing your ankle and making it uncomfortable it is not recommended you use this ankle support. Get an EZ-fit bootie or left/right specific sport socks for this purpose. If your ankles are sore during skating but after some stretching and ankle rotations your fine and not in any moderate to severe pain, this is the support for you.
Ace Bandages are a cheap alternative to a neoprene ankle support that will run around 9-15 dollars. Ace bandages run between 2-5 dollars and fit under your sock comfortably. Wrapping bandages correctly is the biggest difficulty with this method. If you don’t wrap it correctly you will end up cutting off circulation and making your ankle hurt worse. Below are some videos on how to wrap your ankle for support as well as detailed instructions on how to wrap your ankle for support.
· Sit on the floor to make it easy to keep your balance. Extend your legs straight in front of you.
· Place one end of the bandage under the ball of the foot. Begin moving the bandage over the top of the foot, then wrap the bandage around so it circles the arch of the foot. Make sure you wrap the bandage to cover and secure the edge.
· Bring the bandage up over the top of the foot, then around the back above the heel. Bring the bandage back across the top of the foot in the opposite direction, so that it forms an X on the top of the foot.
· Wrap the bandage around the bottom of the foot. Repeat the basket-weave process described above making figure-8 turns.
· Circle the ankle and calf with the bandage. Leave the heel of the foot unwrapped. Secure the end of the bandage with Velcro or tape.
Two things to remember:
· Always leave the toes visible. If the toes begin turning purplish or pink, the wrap may be too tight. Remove the wrap and try again.
· Wrapping the ankle too tightly may restrict blood flow. Loosen the wrap if you begin to feel numbness or tingling in the toes, foot or leg.
Neoprene wraps and supports are easier to use because you just pull them on and they provide thermal therapy while providing compression and soft tissue support. You do not have to worry about wrapping it too tight because they are already fitted to size. You can get a sized or one size fits all version of the neoprene supports and they can be pulled on before your sock or over your sock and they are usually universal meaning they can fit your left or right ankle. Your skate boot will not need to be adjusted to fit your ankle support and foot in comfortably whether you use the ace bandage or the neoprene support.
Level 2 ankle supports are for people who have sprained their ankles and need more protection than a neoprene or ace bandage can provide. If you are in constant lingering throbbing pain with occasional sharp pains when doing turning and twists, or have had a recent (1 week – 9 months) ankle sprain/injury, you need to use this level of protection. It is designed to provide more support via injury specific buttresses and straps along with neoprene compression to provide support, and thermal therapy. Level 2 supports have all the features and benefits of a basic neoprene support with the addition of removable stays to provide added rigidity usually in the form of wrap around Velcro straps/stays. Velcro straps/stays provide extra support/stability for your ankle and compression to help heal the injury. Level 2 ankle supports do not restrict your general movement and can be worn either under your sock or over your sock. Your skate boot will not need to be adjusted to fit your ankle support and foot in comfortably.
Level 3 is the most serious type of ankle support. This support provides the maximum level of support through the use of splints, hinges, lacing and steel stays. This level of protection should only be used if you have had severe ankle sprains or broke your ankle. Level 3 ankle supports are not for the casual ankle pain from over exertion and wearing level 3 ankle supports should also come with doing some sort of daily ankle strengthening exercises as well which will be discussed in my next article.
Level 3 ankle supports can have hinged ankle braces that feature a pivot hinge and a lock down cuff, as well as steel stays, lacing, side plastic or steel inserts to add rigidity and support that are removable. They are generally lightweight and made of a cool mesh or vinyl but bulkier and need to be worn over socks. Your lacing on your boot will change as well to accommodate the size of your foot with the brace around your ankle. You will not need to wear a larger size boot but you will need to lace it looser around the top of your skate boot and looser around your toes as to not cut off the circulation to your toes and having your toes go numb while skating. Level 3 ankle supports treat all ankle injuries including high ankle sprains and are engineered to reduce excessive inversion, and rotation that cause most ankle injuries.
The most highly recommended brand from this author is the Mc David USA brand. They have ankle supports for each level that are affordable and fit in your skates without too much bulk. These are also generally available online, at online skate shops or at any sporting goods store like your locally own Dicks sporting goods or Hibbetts sports.
Ace bandages can be purchased at any drug store and cost between 2-5 dollars. They lose their elasticity though and will need to be replaced often.
Neoprene ankle supports can be purchased at any drug store or sporting goods store and range in price from 9-15 dollars. These will need to be replaced every 6 months to a year depending on how much and the method you wash them.
If you have access to a medical supply store or amazon.com, this author highly recommends getting Co-Flex. Coflex Bandage is a bandage used when lightweight compression is required. Coflex adheres to itself is breathable but durable, offering 8 pounds of tensile strength. When applied correctly, Coflex is an excellent pressure bandage that won’t cut off circulation. Coflex also maintains its original size and does not shrink in width. Removing Coflex is easy; it can be done with scissors and without unwrapping. You can use this to stop bleeding, and for any other compression needs as well and it comes in a variety of sizes. Coflex can reduce bruising and help control swelling. Sports teams use Co-flex as a support wrap for the foot, ankle, leg, knee, shin or other parts of the body. To learn more and see pricing on Co flex locally visit these links:
McDavid 191 Universal Ankle Support is a favorite with the Level 2 ankle supports. The McDavid 199 Lightweight Ankle Brace is the level 3 ankle support worn by myself for 4 years of my derby career and is highly recommended for those with severe ankle issues and previous breaks.
So when it comes to ankle supports, be real with yourself and your needs. Are you really in severe pain? Have you had a previous ankle injury? Do you just need extra cushion in your skate? Do not go straight to a level 3 ankle support because your ankle is sore after a practice or two. Once you go to a level 3 support your ankle becomes weaker and depends on the support. Once you go a level 3 support it’s extremely difficult to skate without the support as well as to go down in ankle support levels. There are alternatives before you have to go to that level of ankle protection. My next series of articles will deal with How to strength your ankles so you don’t have to go to these measures to deal with ankle pain and what types of skates to get if you want to rid yourself of your ankle supports forever.