Q&A: should I be using a joint support?

Q: I had an ankle injury a while ago. Since then, I've been using an ankle support in training. But then, someone mentioned to me that I might be weakening the ankle by wearing it. What's your view on joint supports - do they help?

A: In some cases, the right kind of joint support or taping can be useful in the period following an injury. In the case of ankles, for example, there's evidence that bracing or taping for 6 months to a year after an ankle sprain can be effective for preventing another injury. On the other hand, many sportspeople wear them almost as a matter of course.

It's also important to use the right kind of support for the joint. Rigid supports provide the most protection, but restrict mobility and aren't suitable for some kinds of sports. Meanwhile, "off the peg" neoprene supports may be reassuring psychologically, but may not provide enough support to have a real effect. Any brace or support that restricts movement should be used sparingly (unless medically advised, of course).

A cohesive bandage (available from pharmacies) is cheap and easily applied. They can be particularly useful in the early stages of injury; I always keep a few handy in my training bag. Athletic tape can sometimes be a good option if you know how to apply it (or have someone who can show you). It's less convenient and can be more expensive in the long run, but provides more protection than a standard joint support.

The key point, though, is that putting a joint support on every time you go training is no substitute for a good exercise rehabilitation plan. If you feel that you still need it long after the original injury, then it's probably a sign that you've not taken care of the underlying problem correctly.

The rule I have with my athletes is simple: if you need to wear a joint support for training, then you should also have a rehab program for that joint. As long as you still need the extra protection in training (whether physical or psychological), then you're not ready to stop doing the exercises.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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