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 for reducing the risk of re-injuring a joint. On the other hand, many fighters wear them almost as a matter of course.
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.
It’s also important to use the right kind of support for the joint. Rigid supports provide the most protection, but aren’t suitable for many kinds of combat sports. Meanwhile, “off the peg” neoprene or tubigrip supports may be reassuring psychologically, but may not provide enough support to have a real effect.
A cohesive bandage (available from pharmacies) can give a good compression to the joint, and are particularly useful in the early stages of injury. This video explains how to apply a basic figure 8 wrap.
Athletic tape can also be used to provide joint support during training. Although this can be less convenient and more expensive in the long run, it can be very effective and is often my preferred method for protecting a joint.
It’s important to remember, though, that supporting the joint is no substitute for a good rehab program to strengthen the joint. If you find yourself continuing to need a joint support long after the original injury, then it’s probably a sign that you’ve not taken care of the underlying problem correctly. This is something to discuss with a sports injury professional and/or strength and conditioning coach.
My general guideline for fighters is that if you need to wear a joint support for training, then you should also be doing rehabilitation exercises specific to that joint.