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Ankle support for running: do you need it on the trails?

ankle support for trail running
When a running ankle injury of niggle hits, should you consider a support? (Image credit: Getty)

A common complaint from trail runners is ankle niggles or ankle injuries, such as a sprained ankle or Achilles tendon issues. That's why ankle support for runners – and whether or not you need it – is an important thing to consider.

The nature of running on trails and uneven terrain means that the joints of the legs are subjected to extra twists, turns, jumps and bumps compared to the more repetitive motion of running on tarmac.

When trail running, leg ligaments, muscles, tendons and bones have to work hard  to keep your ankle stable. But we all have different running gaits, for example, some people have feet and ankles that over-pronate or under-pronate.

While, in the long-term, trail running is an excellent way to improve lower body and leg strength, including those pesky ankles, in the short term, or if you have suffered an unexpected twist or turn, ankles can need a bit of support.

Trail running ankle support can be a good idea if the injury is fairly mild and if, while wearing the support, you do not feel any excessive pain.

ankle support for trail running

There are many different types and brands of ankle support for trail running (Image credit: Getty)

Do I need ankle support for running on trails?

There are two reasons for wearing an ankle support for trail running: You might be prone to ankle niggles or sprains, or recovering from an ankle injury. 

As the name suggests, an ankle support helps to support or stabilise your ankle while you are trail running.

Depending on the type of support, you might choose to wear it every time you run, or when you think your ankle requires more support, such as on very uneven terrain or long-distance runs.

However, since the overall aim is to strengthen the ankle in the longer term, it’s not a good idea to wear an ankle support all the time. If you do this, you may well cause your body to become dependent on it. 

ankle support for trail running

Some running injuries require more support  (Image credit: Getty)

How to choose the right trail running ankle support

There are a few factors to consider when choosing the right ankle support for trail runners. 

Good fit

This might sound obvious but you need the ankle support to fit neatly. It should be a neat fit but not so tight that it constricts all movement. Yet, it also needs to be supportive. Try on a few different types and sizes to see which one fits best.

Adjustability

Can you adjust the ankle support? For example, can you tighten or loosen it depending on need? Will it fit over or under your socks and inside most of your running shoes? A bit of adjustment is a good idea.

Compression

If you’re recovering from an injury, you would be wise to look for running ankle support that includes compression. A compression support will increase the blood flow to the ankle area, which means it should increase the recovery process in between runs and while running, too.

Keep it light

A lightweight trail running ankle support will make it easier to wear and it will interfere less with your best trail running shoes.

Wicking

Your ankle will sweat when wearing a trail running ankle support, especially during your run, so it’s useful if the fabric of the support allows sweat to evaporate. Most products will state that they are wickable, or wicking, if they are.

Washability

Because of where you will wear the ankle support and if you plan to use it while trail running, it is useful if you can wash the support easily.

Extra straps

Some ankle supports will have extra straps, usually velcro straps, to offer more stability. 

ankle support for trail running

Taping can be a good solution for ankle injury support and recovery  (Image credit: Getty)

What types of trail running ankle support do I need?

There are a variety of different trail running ankle supports available, from in-shoe support, to tape to ankle braces. 

Some running footwear designs offer built-in support for feet and ankles. These shoes are most likely to be suggested for runners who need good overall stability for gait and ankle. The features might be a higher ankle on the shoe or a supportive sock included in the footwear.

An increasingly popular ankle support technique, especially for preventing an ankle injury recurring or when you need a lighter support, is “taping”. The common name for the tape is kinesiology tape. 

There are different ways to “tape” your ankle for support, depending on the injury or area of injury, and you can seek the advice of a sports / medical expert, or look up the best way to do this on-line. There are plenty of useful tutorials for kinesiology taping.

Other forms of ankle support include a stretchy tube, which might be made of a neoprene, latex or spandex or a mix of all these. Most supports that your “wear” will look like a tube / toeless sock. Some have extra adjustable straps or a gel pad addition to support the Achilles tendon.

You may see ankle braces with lightweight plastic or metal sides. These will provide more robust support although not everyone finds them so comfortable for running.

The best ankle support for running will be one that is well-fitting but also comfortable and suitable for the injury. If in doubt, seek the advice of a sports injury specialist.

It may also be worth thinking about ankle support for hiking.

ankle support for trail running

It is worth seeking sports expertise for trail running ankle injuries (Image credit: Getty)

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).