When the ankle joint becomes injured for any reason, it may be necessary to immobilize the joint in order to prevent further injury and to promote healing in the affected area. To accomplish this immobilization, an ankle splint is commonly used. This device wraps around the affected joint and essentially fixes it in place, thereby limiting normal movement and protecting the joint from potential injury. The design and function of an ankle splint can vary depending on its intended use; some are exceptionally rigid and are intended to completely immobilize a joint, while others offer some flexibility so the joint can move, but not as much as it would without the extra support.
A sprained ankle commonly requires the use of an ankle splint, or at the very least an ankle bandage. An ankle becomes sprained when the ligaments within the joint become damaged or torn, leading to swelling and inflammation, not to mention a fair amount of pain. Sprains tend to heal slowly, which means they are susceptible to re-injury for a long period of time. An ankle splint can be used to steady the ankle joint and prevent the ligaments from moving, thereby promoting healing within the tissues that make up the ligaments. The splint can also help reduce swelling and pain, though if not used properly, the splint can actually worsen these conditions.
Sometimes the ankle splint is designed to only limit one type of movement. The splint may, for example, allow normal forward and backward movement, but it may limit lateral movement. This is common when a person is healing from a ligament injury that can be worsened by lateral movement. The splint will usually feature a stirrup that wraps around the bottom of the foot, as well as an upper support that wraps around the lower leg. A hinge will connect these two parts to allow forward and backward movement, but the rigid hinge, which is usually made from thick plastic or metal, will limit any side-to-side movement that can damage the ankle.
Hook and loop straps are usually used to keep the ankle splint tight around the affected area, though some splints will use laces instead. Hook and loop straps are easily adjustable and quick to adjust on the fly, whereas laces can be slower and less efficient at tightening the splint evenly. Temporary splints are sometimes secured in place using medical tape that must be disposed of once the splint is no longer being used.