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People who wear silicone ankle sleeves or lace-up ankle braces when they participate in sports can benefit from improved neuromuscular control, according to new research.

A study presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) showed that such support aids can benefit an athlete´s performance, although it´s not yet clear whether they lower the risk of injury.

“Athletes often use prophylactic sleeves or braces, and this study used markerless motion analysis to determine whether these support aids are beneficial,” said lead author Dr. Seth L. Sherman from the University of Missouri – Columbia Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Researchers examined five males and five females without prior musculoskeletal injury. They performed tests including the drop vertical jump (DVJ), 45 degree bounding manoeuvres and cutting manoeuvres, under three conditions: no brace, with silicone ankle sleeves (SAS) and with lace-up ankle braces (LAB).

Wearing SAS and LAB for the DVJ, the study participants showed decreased hip internal rotation, ankle torque and ankle range of motion. Meanwhile, knee flexion was increased at initial contact in both the SAS and LAB groups compared to control. There was no significant effect of the braces on dynamic knee valgus during the DVJ.

For the 45 degree bound, ankle torque was significantly reduced for subjects wearing either SAS or LAB. The braces had no effect on performance time versus control during cutting manoeuvres.

Across the various tests, there were no differences detected in either neuromuscular control or athletic performance between the brace types.

However, the study authors noted that the effect on the incidence of lower extremity injury remains largely unknown and requires further investigation.

“While improvements in neuromuscular control were noted in this study, we cannot assume that the use of SAS or LAB leads to a lower injury risk,” Dr. Sherman said. “Athletes should continue to practise proven injury prevention methods, even when using a support device.”