When Ankle Protectors Are Required
Many sports require ankle protectors of one type or another. Not all do, swimming of course does not, and tennis players generally do not wear ankle protectors unless the condition of the ankle dictates it. Many other sports, either sports in which the legs and ankles are subjected to short bursts of acceleration or change in direction, and contact sports, require or recommend some type of ankle protection.
Skiers and snowboarders do not purchase ankle protectors separately, but the boots worn are always designed to protect the ankle from fractures or sprains. One can go hiking in low cut walking shoes quite safely over gentle terrain, but for long treks, or hikes over very rough terrain, high cut boots that have built-in ankle protection are often worn.
Those participating in soccer, football, baseball, and ice hockey usually wear ankle protectors of one type or another. Shin guards, which actually serve to protect the lower part of the leg bones as well as the ankles are commonly worn in soccer, ice hockey, and motocross, where spills can often result in injury to wrists or ankles if they are not well protected.
In baseball one will often see players wearing ankle protectors, though usually on one ankle only. This is normally the ankle facing the pitcher when the payer is in the batter's box, and is most often worn to protect an ankle that had been injured earlier (usually by a foul ball).
In sports where contact to the legs or ankles can be expected, ankle protectors are worn to keep pain to a minimum as much as anything. The forward bone in the leg, the tibia, the largest and strongest bone in the leg, sometimes called the shin bone. The tibia is particularly sensitive to pain since it lies so close to the surface of the skin, and the thin membrane covering the surface of the tibia (and the surface of all other bones as well) is especially rich in nerve cells and pain receptors, making a kick to the shins a very painful experience.
Materials - Ankle protectors are manufactured from a variety of materials, and often a combination of materials, a sturdy material to protect against blows to the ankle or sudden twisting of the ankle, and a softer material to act as a cushion to distribute the force over a wider area. In the past, ankle protectors were often made of leather. Leather of the required thickness is usually rather heavy, and not conducive to use in many athletic events, or any activity where the legs are apt to tire from the added weight. Many present day ankle protectors are made from fiberglass, which besides being sturdy, is not bulky and is very lightweight. Foam rubber protectors will work when the main purpose of the protector is to cushion and distribute the force of a blow, but foam rubber is not particularly sturdy. Polyurethane on the other hand is quite sturdy and probably offers the best protection of all against strong impacts.
Braces - Another form of ankle protectors are braces. Braces are usually worn when an ankle has been injured in the past or the muscles of the ankle are not strong enough to handle the activity in question. Braces tend to provide stability as much as anything, but also provide support to the ankle and the leg. Braces are often constructed of either metal or plastic, and feature padded inserts for comfort. Braces can be held in place by Velcro straps, taping, or in some cases, lacing. Braces are often worn as a protective measure against tendonitis, or to protect against stretching or tearing of ligaments.
Specialized Braces - There are many brace-type ankle protectors on the market which are designed to fill specific needs, often designed to deal with protection of the ankle or leg which has suffered a specific type of injury, and because of the type of the injury, certain ranges in motion need to be curtailed. Some braces will allow the heel and toe to be flexed but will limit the amount the ankle can be moved from side to side. Other braces may perform the opposite function. The simplest brace of all, and one used quite frequently, is a simple ankle wrap using an elastic bandage.