Project Info

Development of a Next-Generation Dynamically Adaptive Ankle Brace

Anthony Petrella

Project Goals and Description:

Significance and Aims of Proposed Project

Ankle sprains are one of the most common distal extremity injuries occurring among both civilian and military populations in the United States. The incidence of ankle sprains is approximately 23,000 – 25,000 per day in the civilian population alone, with an estimated direct medical cost in the range of $2-6 Billion1-6. Approximately 80% of all sprain cases are inversion sprains4. Ankle sprains among military Service members occur at a rate more than five times greater than that seen in civilian populations7, with significant negative impacts on operational readiness of the fighting force. Ankle injuries comprise the greatest proportion of musculoskeletal injuries among active-duty Service members and create a considerable burden on the military healthcare system8. Indirect costs associated with lost workdays, decreased quality of life, and long-term health conditions (e.g., chronic ankle instability, osteoarthritis) are difficulty to quantify but acknowledged to be substantial9,10. Currently available orthoses capable of protecting against lateral ankle sprain include sleeve, lace-up, and stirrup braces8. All these contemporary technologies provide varying levels of ankle protection, which are offset by undesirable effects that reduce user compliance. Such undesirable effects may include (a) impairment of non-injurious joint biomechanics11,12, (b) user discomfort13, (c) excessive time and effort to don/doff the device, and (d) negative user perceptions (e.g., performance limitations, perceived risk of injury to more proximal joints)8. Although ankle bracing has been shown to reduce sprain injuries in both civilian14 and military15 populations, user compliance is clearly essential – i.e., a brace can only be effective if it is worn. The goals of this study, therefore, are to develop and apply a new paradigm for orthosis design that empowers the creation of a next-generation solution to protect against lateral ankle sprain – a solution that overcomes the undesirable effects listed above and promotes effective distal extremity protection through high user satisfaction and compliance. This technology will seek to leverage the latest advances in materials, manufacturing, and mechatronics (i.e., sensing, actuation, power) to deliver an intelligent solution capable of adapting to both the user and the environment. The following specific research aims are proposed: R1Define stakeholders, needs, and functional specifications. Perform a comprehensive assessment of ankle brace perceptions, needs, and use cases among active-duty Service members as well as other stakeholders (e.g., healthcare providers). The goal is to identify causes of low compliance with prophylactic ankle brace use and to define the functional specifications for a next-generation brace design. Musculoskeletal simulation of inversion sprain biomechanics will be leveraged to corroborate previously published metrics associated with sprain risk. These functional and biomechanical specifications embody the design inputs (performance requirements) of the device. R2Prototype development and design verification. Medical device design best practices will be applied to drive ideation and prototype development. Computer simulation and physical testing will be used for structural evaluation of brace performance, which is the basis for verification that design outputs (performance outcomes) satisfy the design inputs (performance requirements). R3Human trials and design validation. EACE member facilities will conduct a controlled trial to evaluate user satisfaction and efficacy of prophylactic bracing solutions comparing one or more prototype next-generation designs to current standards of care (e.g., stirrup brace). Outcome metrics collected will comprise both user feedback and biomechanical measures to establish the validity of prototype designs to meet user needs as defined in R1.

More Information:

Grand Challenge: Not applicable.
  1. Dubuc YZ, Mazzone B, Yoder A, et al. Ankle sprain bracing solutions and future design consideration for civilian and military use. Exp Rev of Med Devices. 2022;19(2):113-122.

Primary Contacts:

Anthony Petrella, Mechanical Engineering, | Mykola Mazur <>, PhD Student

Student Preparation


Experience with machining or additive part fabrication. Aptitude for FEA and biomechanics simulation software.




Ability to... Explain ankle biomechanics Explain the traditional medical device design process Apply FEA and biomechanics simulations software for design verification Fabricate mechatronics device


The PI (Petrella) and PhD student (Mazur) will coach the student through the stages of the medical device design process and the research aims stated in the above description. We will hold weekly meetings and set clear goals for student tasks. Student will be supported to attend a regional biomechanics meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics and encouraged to participate in publication... both conference and journal pubs.


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