When it comes to your ankles, volleyball can be a pretty brutal sport.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve landed from a spike or block and twisted my ankle on someone else’s foot.
In my article ‘Should volleyball players wear ankle braces?‘, I unpack the science and debunk the myths surrounding volleyballers wearing ankle braces.
The short answer is yes, you probably should be wearing ankle braces for volleyball.
In this article, I’m going to break down the 6 best ankle braces on the current market, so you’ll know exactly which one is right for you or your child’s needs.
Best Overall Ankle Braces For Volleyball
Where I grew up playing volleyball, I’d say about 90-95% of players wore the T2 ankle braces by Active Ankle.
They’re the perfect balance between support, comfort, and affordability.
This ankle brace (like all good ankle braces) uses semi-rigid lateral supports which form a barrier around your ankle, physically restricting your ankle from moving into unnatural/dangerous positions.
They definitely take a little getting used to, but they’re actually quite comfortable compared to other options and after a while you won’t even notice you’re wearing them.
The hinge allows the braces to move with your natural movements on court and I never once in 10+ years felt as though they were negatively impacting my ability to move on court.
These braces are also really affordable compared to the alternatives, so not only are they really effective, but they’re also the cheapest semi-rigid ankle braces you can get.
They come in both white and black options which means they’ll blend in perfectly with whichever color socks you prefer to wear.
These can be worn by all volleyball players, regardless of position. Ideal for hitters.
If you’re a libero or setter who only plays back court, you could probably get away with a more minimalist brace – see the last brace in this article for a better option.
- All volleyball players, especially hitters. These ankle braces are excellent all-rounders and are great for anyone who plays volleyball.
- Anyone with mid/high top volleyball shoes. The T2 braces I’ve found are best for mid/high tops as they conform nicely to your shoes – the Ultra Ankles are extremely rigid and hard on the bottoms and don’t fit quite as well for this style of shoe.
Not Ideal For
- Back court players. While you definitely can wear these as a libero or back row setter, and a huge number of those players do, I’d check out my ‘best for back row’ recommendation first, since you might want to consider going for a more lightweight option.
Best Ankle Braces For Volleyball – Runner Up
Let’s take a look at the major differences between this ankle brace and the T2.
Firstly, you’ll notice the solid upright supports at the bottom of the foot on the Ultra Zoom. The T2 just has a flat bottom with no ‘outrigger’, for lack of a better word.
The Ultra Zoom also has a velcro strap that goes over the front of the foot, which the T2 doesn’t have.
The T2 however is made from solid plastic whereas the Ultra Zoom are much softer.
The Ultra Zoom brace is supposed to protect users from not only ankle inversion sprains, but also syndesmotic injuries (upper ankle).
I think I’ve had maybe 1 upper ankle sprain and 95% of them were lower/inversion sprains which the T2 does a great job for.
I personally don’t see the threat of upper ankle injuries to be particularly prevalent in the sport of volleyball.
My research indicates that the vast majority of these injuries occur in field sports where athletes are wearing cleats, not volleyball shoes.
Personally, I can’t quite justify the extra cost of these when there’s no evidence (or even anecdotes that I’m aware of) to suggest they work any better than the Active Ankle T2 brace for volleyball.
- All volleyball players. This design is perfectly fine for all different types of volleyball players.
Not Ideal For
- Anyone with mid/high top volleyball shoes. The front foot strap on the Ultra Zoom causes this brace to feel a little more uncomfortable in this style of shoe.
- Back court players. While you definitely can wear these as a libero or back row setter, and a good chunk of these players do, I’d check out my ‘best for back row’ recommendation first, since you might want to consider going for a more minimal option.
If you liked the look of the T2 but want a little extra support, the Eclipse II is a fantastic option. I recommend this ankle brace particularly for middle blockers who tend to do the most jumping in volleyball.
Best Volleyball Ankle Braces For Hitters
This ankle brace is very similar to the T2, however it’s a little bigger and uses two velcro straps for a more secure fit.
I think this is probably the best option middle blockers who perform more jumps per game than any other position.
The Eclipse II is also a super solid option for any hitters with a history of ankle injuries.
These braces definitely take a little longer to put on than the T2, but I think the few extra seconds is worth the extra protection.
Since they are longer/taller than the T2/Ultra Zoom, you’ll probably want to wear fairly long socks with these.
I find this is more comfortable (and less sweaty) than shorter socks that don’t fill the brace entirely.
I also know players who wear short crew socks with similar braces and are perfectly happy!
As a middle blocker myself, if I were to buy another pair of ankle braces I’d probably go for these.
- Players doing a lot of jumping and landing around the net. Anyone who needs maximum support, especially middle blockers, will really benefit from these braces.
- Anyone recovering from an ankle injury. These braces are not only great prophylactics but are ideal for anyone actively recovering from an injury.
- Anyone with a long history of ankle injuries. If you’ve blown out as many ankles as I have, you’ll benefit from having as much support as you can get.
Not Ideal For
- Back row players. There’s very little need for these players to endure the extra bulkiness of this larger brace when they’re at the lowest risk of injury.
- Players who have had less than 5 ankle injuries in their lives. If you’ve enjoyed a relatively ankle-injury free sporting career, you simply don’t need this much support.
Best Volleyball Ankle Braces For Previous Injuries
According to Ultra Ankle, this brace is the best prophylactic option for ankle joint instability and anyone who has had a large number of ankle sprains in the past.
In terms of design, it’s not much different from the T2 brace, but has the rigid side-foot support that the T2 doesn’t.
Unfortunately there’s no research which compares the effectiveness of the Ultra High-5 to the T2, so it’s hard to know if the extra cost is going to yield any extra benefit.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether paying 50% more for this brace over the T2 is a good idea.
- Anyone with a long history of ankle injuries. This brace is particularly good for ankles that have weakened after years of abuse.
Not Ideal For
- Anyone on a budget. These are some of the most expensive ankle braces money can buy!
Most Comfortable Ankle Braces For Volleyball
I absolutely love these ankle braces and think they’re a great fit for a large number of players.
They’re made from a soft, breathable material that doesn’t rub uncomfortably on your ankles.
The great thing about these is that you can choose to use the rigid side support inserts if you’re chasing a little extra support. Many users choose not to as it still does a good job without them.
While I don’t expect you’ll get as much support out of these compared to the T2 or Ultra Ankles, it’s definitely going to be better than nothing.
I’d recommend these braces for anyone who has had less than 5 ankle injuries lifetime.
Research has shown that ankle braces do significantly less for people who haven’t sustained a ton of ankle sprains, which is why I think opting for this lighter weight brace is a perfect option for younger players.
- Anyone with less than 5 ankle sprains lifetime. These are a great option for younger players who have relatively healthy ankles.
- Anyone who prioritizes comfort or who tried other braces and didn’t like the way they felt. These braces are much quicker to get used to than the other options.
Not Ideal For
- Anyone with an extensive ankle injury history. If you’re in this boat, you should prioritize support over comfort and opt for the T2 or Ultra Ankle.
If you’re a libero or setter who plays primarily in the back court, you don’t need a big and bulky ankle brace weighing you down. A light weight sleeve option will provide more than enough support.
Best Volleyball Ankle Braces For Back Row Players
First of all, I don’t really recommend that liberos or defensive specialists wear ankle braces at all.
The risk of ankle injury for these players is extremely low.
You’re better off maintaining maximum mobility and not risking potentially weakening your ankles by bracing them unnecessarily.
But if you do still think some ankle support is a good idea, I’d choose a super lightweight option like the 329 sleeve.
This is essentially a glorified ankle sleeve with some straps for extra support.
This option offers minimal support but maximum on-court mobility which is super important for both liberos as well as back court setters.
If you’re a setter who plays both in the front and back court, the 329 sleeve is a fine option but I’d consider upgrading to the T2 or Ultra Zoom so you’re adequately protected when playing in the front row.
- Liberos and setters. Liberos need maximum mobility and very little support since they’re doing very little jumping. Back row setters are in a similar boat, however front row setters should consider upgrading to an option with more support.
Not Ideal For
- Hitters. There’s probably not quite enough support in the 329 sleeve to be the best choice for anyone doing lots of jumping.
No one brace is going to massively outperform another and they all require a little breaking in and an adjustment period.
Having said that, here’s what I think are the best choices, in a nutshell…
If you have an extensive history of ankle sprains, consider the Ultra High-5 ankle brace which appears to be the best prophylactic brace. It’s also the most expensive.
If you’re a middle blocker, consider the Eclipse II brace if you want maximum protection.
If you’re a younger player who doesn’t have a long history of ankle injuries (less than 5 lifetime), consider going for the Mizuno DXS2 which is lightweight and very comfortable.
If you’re a libero or a setter who mostly plays from the back row, consider the 329 ankle sleeve which is the most lightweight option.
Best Volleyball Ankle Braces For Each Position
It’s honestly not really necessary to break things down by position because the difference in each brace and each position is fairly negligible, but I’ve gone ahead and written up my recommendations for each position on court.
Best Ankle Braces For Middle Blockers
Middle blockers have to jump a lot more than any other position in volleyball, since they have to block on both wings.
They’re also likely going to be drifting in the air more than other positions when blocking, which is a recipe for busted ankles.
As a middle blocker myself, I’ve worn the Active Ankle T2s for a number of years and stand by them.
I have still sprained my ankles while wearing them, although at a far lower rate.
For middle blockers I’d recommend at the very least going for the Active Ankle T2s or Ultra Zooms.
Realistically you’d probably be better off upgrading to the Eclipse II or Ultra High-5s if you’ve got dodgy ankles like I do.
Best Ankle Braces For Wing Spikers
For these positions, there isn’t much need to deviate away from the tried and true Active Ankle T2s or the Ultra Zooms.
If you haven’t had many ankle injuries, consider the Mizuno DXS2 and if you’ve had a lot of ankle injuries, opt for either the Eclipse II or Ultra High-5.
Best Ankle Braces For Setters
For setters who play primarily from the back row (your team mainly runs a 6-2 offense), consider going for the most lightweight option: 329 ankle sleeve.
If you play in the front row, probably stick with the T2 or Ultra Zoom or even Mizuno DXS2.
Best Ankle Braces For Liberos
I don’t recommend liberos wear ankle braces.
95% or more ankle injuries in volleyball come from jumping, so it just doesn’t make sense to wear ankle braces as a defensive specialist.
It’s possible (although not confirmed) that wearing ankle braces can lead to weaker ankles over time which is why you should avoid wearing them if at all possible.
If you did still want some extra support, opt for the 329 ankle sleeve as it’s the most lightweight choice.
What To Consider When Looking For Volleyball Ankle Braces
There are 5 different things you need to think of when shopping for ankle braces as a volleyballer.
If you take each of these into consideration, you’re almost guaranteed to end up with an ankle brace you’re really happy with!
Ankle Injury History
Possibly the most important thing to think about is how prone you’ve been to ankle injuries throughout your sporting career.
A 25 year old player who has had 25+ ankle sprains throughout their life should choose a different ankle brace to a 12 year old player who has only sprained their ankle twice in their life.
The research indicates that the more ankle sprains you’ve dealt with over the years, the more effective ankles braces will be at preventing sprains from reoccurring.1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1319230/
If you or your child hasn’t dealt with many ankle sprains in the past, the prophylactic effectiveness of wearing ankle braces at all will be minimal.
For this reason, I recommend more supportive ankle braces (Eclipse II, Ultra High-5) to those who have a history of ankle injury, and more lightweight braces (Mizuno DSX2, 329 Sleeve) for those who don’t, but still want to wear them.
What Position Do You Play?
The other most important thing to think about is how much jumping you do when playing volleyball.
Almost all ankle sprains in volleyball come from jumping and landing awkwardly, often on somebody else’s foot.
A middle blocker who’s jumping 100+ times a match should not wear the same ankle braces as a libero who doesn’t jump at all.
The more jumping you do, the more supportive your ankle braces should be.
See above for my breakdown of which ankle braces each position should wear.
What Shoes Do You Wear?
Almost all ankle braces will work with almost all volleyball shoes.
There are a couple to be aware of though…
If you wear high tops (and even some mid tops), the Ultra Zoom brace may not fit comfortably in your shoes, due to the front foot strap.
Also if you happen to wear Nike Zoom HyperAce 2s, you might struggle to fit any ankle braces in these.
These kicks have super thick internal padding around the ankles and I’ve heard it’s virtually impossible to get ankle braces into these without ripping the shoes apart!
But really you should be fine with the vast majority of shoe/brace combinations.
What Color Makes The Most Sense?
Most ankle braces come in white or black options.
Parents, it’s a good idea to ask your kid which color they prefer before buying ankle braces…
How Many Do You Need?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re getting a pair of ankle braces for $40 when shopping online…
Ankle braces are sold separately, meaning you’re only going to get 1 for the listed price.
In 99% of cases, you’re going to need 2 braces, so you have to remember to order a quantity of 2!
Avoid Wearing Lace-Up Ankle Braces
If you are going to get some ankle braces, avoid getting lace up braces which have been shown to reduce muscle torque and power output during athletic movements.2https://volleyballvault.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Negative-Effects-of-Lace-Up-Ankle-Bracing.pdf
Instead opt for the semi-rigid braces (like the ones discussed in this article) which are less restrictive and haven’t been conclusively shown to reduce sports performance.
Make Ankle Strengthening A Priority!
If you really want to reduce ankle injuries, you actually need to make a habit of actively strengthening you ankles.
Bulletproof ankles don’t come from wearing ankle braces, they come from doing very specific exercises which I discuss in detail below.
I believe the above should be mandatory reading for all volleyball athletes!