Ankle injuries…the bane of nearly every basketball players existence. They happen at the unlikeliest of times, they rob us of our explosiveness and most importantly, our confidence. There was a lot of interest in an ankle brace performance review a little over a month ago and now that I have given these two braces a significant amount of run, it is time to provide one for our readers.
As I detailed in a Weekender post here, I suffered a severe (grade 3) high ankle sprain and a mild low ankle sprain at the same time on my left foot this summer. As a worked my way back from my injury, I put my trust in the Zamst A2-DX brace and the ASO ankle stabilizing orthosis brace. For the past 2 months of full capacity basketball I have played with the Zamst on my left ankle and the ASO on my right ankle for all basketball activities. Additionally, I played a significant amount of football (flag and two-hand) and soccer with just the ASO brace on my left ankle. That’s enough background for you, so let’s get right into it.
I can’t explicitly say one is better than the other, I found them to preform well in different situations for different ailments. I’ll explain the way each ankle brace preformed and allow you to make your own judgement on what is best for you.
Zamst A2-DX: ($56.50 on Amazon)
Fit – The sizing is based solely on the size shoe you wear and I fell right within the Large range. I also considered the fact that the size of the brace is directly related to the size of the plastic support features so it was important to go true to size to realize the full benefits. Also note that it is left/right specific so be aware of that when purchasing. In terms of fitting in shoes, it has fit in my high and low basketball shoes fine, just note that the plastic components will tear apart your ankle collar on a low top.
Comfort – There is a reason Steph Curry wears these 82 games a season, they truly are comfortable. I was hesitant and doubtful, but they exceeded my expectations in regards to comfort. I can run full court for 5 hours and experience no pain, discomfort, or hot spots. The weight isn’t very noticeable (I’m not a high flyer but I play through my speed) and the plastic pieces absolutely never dig in. I was, and continue to be, pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the A2-DX design. They do not get in the way or make you play with the ankle brace on your mind, I have no complaints.
Ease of Use – The brace takes a couple minutes to throw on before a game and requires only one or two views of the instructional video provided by Zamst. The only problem I have encountered is its awkward shape in regards to throwing in a gym bag or a suitcase. It doesn’t really fold up and the primary strap tends to get bent and twisted in concerning directions. That being said, nothing bad has resulted in all of my travel with the brace stowed away. Also, I would not suggest machine washing it, can’t see it being good for the way this brace is constructed
Performance – This is an expensive brace, but I paid the high price to ensure comfort and security in the wake of my injury. This brace was made for protection and piece of mind after a high ankle injury, plain and simple. If that is not the nature of your injury then you are definitely better off with a different brace (Zamst has plenty of different options!). The brace features two straps at the back, one at the heel and one around the ankle bone to pull your foot into place. It also features the two straps that cross over eachother to provide some support and lockdown over the bridge of the foot. Then, there is the primary strap that pulls the plastic support features together for the main functionality of the design.
The brace performs the way it was intended, and my basketball shoes have more than made up for its lack of tightness and lockdown through the lower ankle and arch. In regards to performance with soccer cleats while playing on turf and grass, since the cleats do not provide the same support as a basketball shoe…I have found the A2-DX to offer too little support in the lower ankle to make me feel comfortable using it. The ASO was a better fit in this more dynamic situation.
ASO ankle stabilizing orthosis: ($29.99)
Fit – The ASO brace is of bilateral design, in that it will fit and work on either ankle and does not have to be purchased specifically for left or right, Based on the packaging and information provided by ASOS, I should have gotten a large. But, since this was the brace that my Doctor provided me after the injury, I was given the helpful tip to go with a smaller size if I wasn’t on the upper limits of large dimensions already (I am a size 11.5 shoe regular width). So, I went with a Medium brace and it has turned out to be an excellent decision. I have never felt that it was too small on me. The lace up system allows you to really toggle the tightness and the fit as long as you lock your heel into the back of the brace. It also fits in all of my cleats, basketball shoes, and trail running shoes.
Comfort – Comfort is a big deal for these ankle braces. If you need to wear them and they are incredibly uncomfortable, you will be less likely to wear them and probably not enjoy your time playing basketball with them on. In my opinion, though there is a little bit of noticeable weight added when wearing it, the ASO is very comfortable. Admittedly, there is a short break in time where your movement, body heat, and sweat break in the initially stiff straps and shape of the brace. After break-in, I can tell you from easily 60-70 hours playing in this brace that I have not experienced blisters or any kind of nagging discomfort that could take my enjoyment away from sports.
My only caveat to this statement is that each user needs to find their sweet spot for comfort and support. With the straps and the laces in place to allow for a custom level of tightness, it is very possible to go too tight around the midfoot and arch and cause foot numbing and pain. Sometimes it takes a few moments to notice and a couple times I was already mid game when I starting feeling tingling pain and the onset of numbness.I don’t think this takes away from the brace itself because this is user error when it happens. Once you find your sweet spot, the brace is consistently comfortable.
Ease of Use – The ASO brace is a little more straight forward than the Zamst and is thus easier to put on and faster by a minute or two at the very most. When the laces and the velcro straps get tangled it is never a mess that can’t be resolved in 10 seconds of aimless pulling. In terms of washing, I chose to do so by hand because I feared the washing machine could potentially tangle the brace beyond recognition or possibly ruin the elastic elements. Perhaps an unnecessary precaution, but I won’t tell you to try anything I wouldn’t do myself.
Performance – I truly believe that this is a very solid all around brace. I have found it to fit in just about every shoe I own and it does not tear apart the ankle collars like the Zamst with its plastic edges. I have used it on my (uninjured) right ankle when playing basketball as a safety net to help my confidence when playing at full speed. I also have used it on my left (injured) ankle during both football and soccer because I needed the all around lockdown and support it provided in the absence of a high top/ supportive basketball shoe. The ASO is versatile, doesn’t hinder sharp cutting on the court, the grass, or the turf and does very well for it’s price.
Final Thoughts: Between the Zamst A2-DX and the ASO, the ASO is better for low ankle sprains. The ability to really toggle tightness and fit to that degree allows you to truly lock down on your ankle and midfoot. You can’t twist and move your foot side to side once you’re locked into the ASO, but it does flex well to accommodate lateral movements. If you suffered a high ankle sprain only, then there is nothing better than the Zamst A2-DX, but if you are in need of a very solid all around brace then the ASO is certainly an excellent option.
I’ll conclude by saying that I never wore ankle braces before three months ago. I often played in low tops and experienced no injuries until this year. Furthermore, I was not a big advocate for their use as I felt they put your lower leg and foot muscles in a debilitating cast-like state that would slowly erode your strength and proprioception. This may be true, but I acknowledge that injuries change people, and my love for the game made me put my trust into these braces, despite my prior beliefs.
This is my honest assessment of my experience, they will not proof you from further injury, but they may offer piece of mind or much needed support. I hope you enjoyed the review and I look forward to your comments!
Images and video via Zamst and ASO