The brace that's best for your ankle is built in: your own muscles. When they're injured, though, external bracing---one part of the PRICE (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) sprain protocol--can put you back in motion. Ankle braces come in three varieties: rigid, compression and emergency.
The rigid brace virtually immobilizes the ankle joint, a special advantage during the first few hours after injury. One drawback: A rigid ankle brace may not be immediately available.
Rigid braces come in various guises. Each design provides substantial side support: a good thing. Their major disadvantage is that rigid braces may mask signs of more serious injury. If you think you need a rigid brace, consult a doctor.
A compression brace also restricts joint motion, although less than a rigid brace. On the other hand, most homes have one or two on hand.
As soon as you can after spraining, wrap your ankle with a compression brace. It stabilizes overstretched or torn ligaments (Protect) and helps limit swelling (Compression). As much as you can, keep the brace on for the first 48 to 72 hours.
Compression braces come as simple elastic strips, elastic woven into the shape of an ankle, contrivances that lace to adjust compression and toeless pressure socks. It is easy and painless to wrap an elastic strip bandage around a smarting joint.
Not all ankle injuries happen at home. If you're far afield with a sore, swollen ankle, make do with a temporary brace until you can get to medical care or home sprain supplies. A bandanna can be applied to give support, and in conjunction with a stick or two, can give considerable temporary assistance.
The ankle brace that's best depends upon where you are when injury occurs, what is available and the nature of the injury. A rule of thumb: Immobilize, and do not bear weight on the joint for 48 hours. An elastic brace is perfect. Then, perhaps after seeking medical help, gradually resume joint activity, being careful not to overstretch damaged soft tissue. This is a good time for a shaped lace-up or, in some cases, a rigid brace.