Ankle and knee injuries are some of the most common injuries in the sporting and outdoor world. This is because many of the movements that give us that wide range of motion with our legs are prone to wear and tear.
This is why it’s common to see ankle and knee braces on the field as well as in the great outdoors. These braces don’t make your joints invulnerable, but they will stabilize them if you’re looking to get back into the game after an injury. While we certainly don’t recommend playing on a severely injured muscle or joint, you’ll find that braces are designed specifically to keep injuries stable at the least while you play. The key with ankle and knee braces is the prevention of further injury to your lower body in places that you know are fragile or tender.
- One thing to consider when considering ankle braces—they will expand the size of your shoe/cleat when you use them. This is why it is preferable to get a shoe/cleat that is at least half a size bigger than what you normally wear so that your brace has ample
- With knee braces, you’ll want the brace to move with the natural bending of the knee instead of against it. There should be no parts that stick out and cause discomfort.
Your safety and ability to keep playing should be your top concern. If you are able to confirm that your injury or bruise is minor, an ankle or knee brace will be the best option to keep playing. Total injury prevention is never guaranteed, as we don’t have X-ray vision to see what is going on inside our ankles and knees at all times. However, these various braces have been proven to speed up recovery while allowing their users to remain in the game.
Here are our recommendations for the best ankle and knee braces on the market.
If you want a fortress for your ankle, look no further because the Zamst A2-DX’s are exactly that. Perhaps that’s why pro athletes like Steph Curry have been seen on the court wearing them on both ankles. Your ankle and the ligaments attached to it move around in your foot under normal circumstances. In order to prevent further injury, the A2-DX’s strap onto your foot in three ways, keeping the ankle in place without limiting your playmaking ability.
These braces are going to a bit pricey because of the added protection they provide. However, if you’re looking to make a career out of sports or the outdoor world, the A2-DX’s are going to be your best bet for keeping your feet injury-free.
Shock Doctor is a well-respected sports medicine brand, and the 851 Ultra Wrap is a testament to their reputation. The 851 has a similar design to the ASO but also wraps underneath the foot. This is an area that most people don’t take into consideration when nursing their ankle. Since the ankle is the primary joint for foot movement, its connect to vital muscles in the foot. Any stress on the ankle is likely to put stress on the muscles as well.
The 851 also allows you to adjust the straps. This is pretty handy because you don’t want to have to buy a whole new brace because it’s not doing the job. A high-quality brace like the 851 also keeps your foot from sliding around on the interior of your shoe/cleat, which could cause injury as well.
The Kunto Fitness support sleeve isn’t technically an ankle brace, but a sleeve. A sleeve isn’t as heavy or padded as a dedicated brace but still provides ample protection against common ankle
injuries. Make no mistake, just because the Kunto is a sleeve doesn’t mean it doesn’t protect your ankle. You’ll have to slip one on and run around with it to know what we mean.
In short, the Kunto would be an ankle brace without the lacing and strap, leaving the primary boot on your foot. However, instead of a boot, it’s like an extra sock that’s comfortable and flexible so it won’t slide down your foot during use.
The Cotill brace combines the strap aspects of a heavy duty brace while remaining thin and simple like a sleeve. It also sits low on the ankle as opposed to ones developed by Shock Doctor and Med Spec. If you dislike the way that higher ankle braces feel above your ankle, the Cotill will be a preferable solution.
The Cotill’s strength lays within its design. Most people enjoy the feeling an ankle strap provides them while the thinness of a sleeve keeps their shoes/cleats from feeling too bulky. It also does not inhibit blood flow (which could happen if a brace were too tight), allowing you to wear the brace at any time of day.
The ACE ankle stabilizer is another simplistic design much like the Cotill. It adds another strap atop the one already occupying the ankle. It’s not as large or state of the art like the A2-DX but provides added protection nonetheless.
One of the best facts about the ACE is its breathable materials. You don’t hear about this often with other braces (mostly because they don’t have breathability). A tight ankle brace can work up a lot of sweat and moisture on your foot, which can lead to painful blisters. The ACE’s materials allow your skin to breathe through the brace and keep it dry for the most part.
Sleeve Stars may look like an ordinary sock, but like the Kunto, you have to feel it to believe it. In any case, this sleeve comes with a free bonus strap in your purchase. This strap will ideally form an X around your ankle much like the straps on the higher-tier ankle braces do.
This sleeve will be preferable for those not playing high-intensity but need a little added support for their ankles.
Much like ankle braces, knee braces stabilize the knee and prevent further friction and injury from occurring. Bracoo’s open-patella stabilizer utilizes three straps to lock the knee in place without it feeling uncomfortable. The straps cover above, on, and below the knee and redistributes the stress you put on the knee to all the major ligaments in your knee.
Open-patella means the very front of the knee is left exposed to allow the skin to breathe. What’s great about Bracoo’s stabilizer is it’s the perfect size. Not too small or too bulky and able to cover knee sizes of 12.5″-18″ in diameter. These dimensions are the ranges of most adults.
Shock Doctor’s ultra knee supporter is to the knee what the Zamst A2-DX is to the ankle-a fortress. The key with most braces is maximizing the efficiency of your joints without limiting athletic capability.
Shock Doctor doesn’t just aid the actual knee joint itself, but all the ligaments and muscles surrounding it. Tears to meniscus and muscles around the knee are just as common as injuries to the ankle. Thus Shock Doctor’s multi-tiered strap system provides a sort of armor around your knee with different angles of strapping and padding.
You may have seen larger, metal knee braces that are designed for more series knee injuries. While the 429X isn’t on that level, it does use metal hinges on both sides of the knee to aid in bending and further motion.
Like the Bracoo, the 429X is also open patella but still supports every major ligament in the knee. It wouldn’t do much good if it couldn’t. In addition to its strapping, the 429X’s materials make it one of the most comfortable knee braces on the market.
The IPOW 2 may not look like much, but its single strap design is in fact ingenious. It’s not uncommon to see pro athletes wearing these instead of larger braces during games. What exactly do they do? If you’re not looking to put a suit of armor around your knee, then the IPOW 2 is the strap for you.
As a strap, it’s more of shock absorber that goes under the patella. Whenever your foot hits the ground, your various joints absorb the impact and distribute the stress accordingly. The IPOW 2 is a simple design that may feel awkward at first since it doesn’t surround your knee, but the protection it provides (especially for basketball players, who jump a lot), is undeniable.
The Blitzu Flex Plus is a sleeve and much like ankle sleeve; it’s a simple design for people of all sports and hobbies. Just because it doesn’t provide the straps and padding that normal braces do doesn’t mean it doesn’t protect vital areas. As a sleeve, it aids the flexibility of the knee and relieves excess pressure on your major ligaments.
The best part about the Flex Plus is that it’s built to last. Most sleeves may look like nothing more than a sock, but the Flex Plus is made of materials to withstand constant movement and sweat.
Braces vs. Sleeves
One thing you’re bound to consider is whether you will need a sleeve or a brace, and the pros and cons to both. Sleeves are less bulky than braces but the latter provides more pressure to the ankle to keep it stabilized. In the end, it will come down to whether you believe your ankle is prone to weakness or you just want to keep it warm and flexible.
The higher tier braces (ankle and knee) are going to involve a lot more straps and tightening. These are probably going to be for those playing high-intensity sports such as football, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. The sleeves, on the other hand, are for lower intensity and meant to treat slight to moderate issues with joints.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to sleeves and braces.
- Thin, sock-like feel.
- One-size fits all
- No padding support
- No strap around ankle joints and ligaments
- Not ideal for high-intensity moments
- Heavily padded
- Differing layers and angles of straps
- Protects most regions of primary muscle movement
- Bulky and may interfere with feel of shoe/cleat
- Can be problematic if over tightened
- Interior can be uncomfortable