Brace Yourself

by: Jon Levey | November 07, 2014

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Tags: The Pro Shop

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Photo Credit: Jag Gundu/Cynthia Lum foto

Play tennis long enough and joint sprains and muscle pains inevitably become part of the equation. Since managing the discomfort is the only way many can stay on-court, supportive braces and wraps have become ubiquitous parts of the player wardrobe. 
 
I remember seeing Robby Ginepri playing Donald Young at Roland Garros in 2008 and both of Ginepri’s arms were covered with KT Tape. Up to that point I had never seen the tape before, and from a distance I presumed Ginepri had gotten a sleeve of tattoos. Now it’s everywhere.
 
But, while support aids have become fashionable, it’s their function that really matter. One of our equipment testers, Mitch Case, recently sustained an ankle injury and needed to find ways to bolster the joint to maintain his lesson schedule and speed the recovery process. Here are his recommendations.

Mitch Case: Back in April, I had the misfortune of severely rolling my ankle while sliding for a wide forehand. As it turns out, I am no Gael Monfils.

After some weeks of rest and physical therapy, my return to the court could not have been possible without some kind of ankle support. The brace that I was given tended to make my foot cramp, so I could only tolerate being on court for very short sessions. I needed to find a better option. Over the course of the summer, I was able to test three types of braces from Med Spec, KT Tape, as well as plain old mid-cut shoes. Each offered differing levels of support.  
 
Here’s my rundown of each option, starting with the most supportive:
 
This brace provides the ankle with excellent stability without feeling overly restrictive. The 6-eyelet lace-up ballistic nylon boot (which runs from heel to mid-arch) is just flexible enough to comfortably contour to the shape of the foot. The CoolFlex material on the tongue and Achilles area also add to the comfort. 
 
The stirrup strap/stabilizing strap system is a single strap which originates from under the heel on the inside of the boot, and up along the sides of the ankle. Each end of the strap travels through an internal plastic support, called the Dynamic Cuff. This provides added high ankle support, and guides the strap system at the top of the boot. Each end of the strap then wraps across the top of the foot, under the heel, and in secured by Velcro along the side of the ankle. 
 
This stirrup/figure-8 wrap effectively holds the heel in place, much like a traditional ankle taping applied by a certified athletic trainer or physical therapist. An elastic cuff covers the tops of the stabilizing straps, as well as the knot from the tied boot laces. In addition to making the top of the brace look clean and contained, the cuff also serves to protect against high ankle sprains. 
 
The only downside to this brace is its bulk. I could appreciate this at first, as it made me feel as if my ankle was fitted with armor. Over time, as my ankle grew stronger and the need for such support (both physical and psychological) waned, I started to look for a lower-profile design that would provide more breathability for my foot.
 
This is my favorite of the braces, as it offers good support without being cumbersome. Like the EVO, it features a full lace-up ballistic nylon boot (with 6 eyelets), and CoolFlex tongue and Achilles pad, which combine to comfortably wrap around the foot from heel to mid-arch. But unlike the EVO, the strapping system lacks the internal stirrup (as well as the interior Dynamic Cuff), as it’s anchored from the back of the top of the boot, and not under the heel. Each strap wraps across the top of the foot, under the heel, and up along the side of the boot in a figure-8 pattern. The elastic cuff at the top of the boot provides high ankle support and covers the top of the stabilizing straps and boot laces.
 
While still offering plenty of support, this lower-profile design makes for an easier fit into sneakers, and allows the foot to breathe better than the EVO. 
 
The Quatro version of the EVO brace features the same technologies of the standard EVO, including the one-piece stirrup/stabilizing lacing system, CoolFlex padding/tongue, and Dynamic Cuff. However, the ballistic nylon “boot” has been trimmed to a stirrup shape (with 4 eyelets). While less of the foot is covered, the internal stirrup and stabilizing straps still hold the heel in place, providing similar support.  
 
The fewer eyelets make lacing up the boot slightly faster, and the stirrup design helps keep the foot from feeling hot. Since the upper portion of the brace is the same as the EVO, the Quatro provides excellent high ankle support.  
 
When wearing low-cut shoes, the Quatro is the brace I tend to use the most as I require less support around the foot at this point. I also like that less of my foot is covered and therefore less insulated.
 
The most minimal offering in terms of both bulk, weight, and support. This flexible/stretchable athletic tape is not as rigid as traditional athletic taping, and is much easier to wear. The tape is fairly simple to apply, especially after watching the instructional video on the KT Tape website. The application for ankle support requires only three pieces of tape, so after some practice, putting the tape on will only require a few minutes at most. And, if you’re careful, one application can last a couple of days.
 
I was provided both Original (cotton) and Pro (synthetic) versions of KT Tape. The Pro version seems to stretch slightly more than the cotton, but I found both to offer a similar level of support. On my first day of testing the Pro Tape, I stepped on a ball while chasing down a lob by the back curtain. I thought for sure my ankle would buckle, but the tape did its job and I was able to continue play without pain or injury.
 
I’ve had great results with the performance of KT Tape on muscle tweaks/pulls in the shoulder blade area, but I did have a few minor wear and tear issues when using it on my ankle. First off, the synthetic fibers of the Pro Tape create a slightly slick surface on the outside of the tape. Since my sock was made of similar fibers, my foot slid against my sock more than I’d prefer. However, using the Original cotton tape seemed to solve this problem.
 
Also, the tape is advertised to last from 1-3 days (Original) or up to a week (Pro). While this may be the case with other injury sites—tape on my shoulder typically lasted from 3-5 days—both versions of the tape started to peel/roll within a day on my ankle. This could be due to having a tight sock on the tape, rather than a loose-fitting shirt when applied to my shoulder.
 
Mid-Cut Shoes
Now that I’m healed, the most simple option for me is a higher cut shoe. In terms of convenience, this option is tremendous, as it doesn’t require added expense or time, while still providing more support. I was fortunate enough to find a mid-cut version of the shoe I wear most (Prince T22), so the transition was effortless.
 
So to sum up:
 
—The EVO provides the highest level of both high and low ankle stabilization, along with a little bit of bulk.
 
—The EVO Quatro offers superior high ankle support, and moderate-to-high low ankle support, in a less obtrusive fashion.
 
—The ASO (my preferred choice) gives sold all-around support in a lighter weight/lower-profile package.
 
—KT Tape provides slightly increased ankle support for players who need it, but are unable to find, or unwilling to wear, a higher cut shoe.   
 
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