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Ankle guards limit movement in the ankle joint.
Spike Mafford/Photodisc/Getty Images
Ankle guards, also known as ankle braces, are devices worn around the foot and lower leg to protect the ankle joints. Runners may choose to wear a slip-on or lace-up ankle guard to serve as added support after being injuried, or as a preventive measure against injury. Whether an ankle guard is good or bad for you depends on why you're using the brace, and the nature of your athletic goals.
Ankle Injuries in Runners
Runners are subject to a number of ankle injuries, many of which are caused by overuse. Overuse can mean running too many miles each week or increasing your mileage too quickly. Ankle injuries in runners include bursitis and tendonitis -- inflammation of the soft tissues that surround and cushion the ankles. Runners may also have a tendency to roll or twist their ankles when running on uneven terrain.
Bracing your ankle limits its natural range of motion. By limiting your joint's movement, you can protect against rolling your ankle. The protection allows you to run without constantly thinking about your footing. Freeing your mind from worrying about injury can help you concentrate on your pacing, breathing and other aspects of running, especially in a race situation. Ankle guards provide support that can keep pain to a minimum during a workout, which is a benefit to many athletes.
Leg Position and Foot Strike
The mechanics of leg position and foot strike play an important role in running. Landing with your knee partially bent helps runners spring back up into their next stride with minimal negative impact to the ankle, knee and hip joints. Ankle bracing is a concern to some runners due to the perceived change in stride patterns. According to the May-June 2008 issue of "The Journal of Athletic Training," wearing a lace-up ankle brace does not negatively affect the flex of the knee during running. Athletes tested with and without braces showed no difference in ground reaction force -- the ability of the body to adjust to the impact of landing on the ground -- either.
Wearing an ankle guard prevents you from moving as naturally as you do without a brace. In some cases, this can interfere with your running speed. Studies published in an August 2012 issue of "PM&R: The Journal of Injury, Function and Rehabilitation," report that sprinters who wore ankle braces showed a very slight time increase of less than one-half of one second. While this could be a significant difference in the racing time of an elite athlete, ankle bracing does not indicate a slowing down for the average recreational runner.