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Ankle sprains are the worst enemy of any basketball player. They are incredibly painful and, in some situations, ankle sprains have long term implications which can have a lasting effect years in the future. It is a brutal injury and can strike at any time on the basketball court.
The injury being so bad means that there is a huge amount of research into ways to prevent an ankle sprain, the same as any other major injury. In the 2021-22 season, we saw Anthony Davis struggle for fitness throughout the entire season, stemming from persistent rolling his ankle and causing a sprain.
Despite the very best medical team money can buy, Davis could do nothing but watch as the Lakers missed out on the playoffs, showing just how bad ankle sprains can be. One question that has been raised is “Do high top basketball shoes prevent ankle sprains?”
With your shoe giving way, causing your ankle to twist and sprain, there is some hope that ankle sprains can be prevented by looking at the type of the shoe you wear to play basketball.
Let’s find out more!
Do high top basketball shoes prevent ankle sprains?
There is conflicting evidence, but generally it is found that high top basketball shoes do not prevent ankle sprains. It is difficult to accurately have one significant answer, as there are many studies that report both possibilities. The majority of studies find no relationship between high top basketball shoes and lower occurrences of ankle sprains.
It is a difficult topic. The marketing of high top basketball shoes is that the additional material that low top basketball shoes don’t have will support your ankle and help to prevent it to roll. But this is not the case.
The part of the shoe surrounding the ankle on a high top basketball shoe is not really strong enough to properly support the ankle. It is nowhere near strong enough to hold the ankle in place and prevent a sprain, so it does not have massive differences between high top and low top basketball shoes.
The science behind this backs it up.
When the shoe began to become more popular in the 1990s, there was a lot of thought that it was better for your ankles, but this was more of a marketing strategy than real scientific fact. Various studies have found very little difference in how often an ankle sprain occurs no matter the height of the basketball shoe.
What Science says about high top basketball shoes preventing ankle sprains
The severity of ankle sprains and how often they occur means that there have been a huge amount of studies onto ways to prevent the injuries. There have been dozens of academic studies on the high top basketball shoe. Their findings tend to all be pretty similar.
The first major study into this occurred in 1993 and the study found that there is: “No significant difference in plantar-flexion or impact force when performing cutting movements between high tops, low tops and low tops with a brace”.
Findings indicate the potential for using low-cut running shoes for recreational basketball without an increased injury risk.”
What the study essentially says is that there is not any difference in the amount of force put through the ankle when you change the height of the top of the basketball shoe.
It also says that wearing low cut shoes for exercise will not bring an increased risk of injury because it does not put more force through your ankle (R.Barrett, 1993). If you want to check out this study, it is right here.
But that’s not all.
In 2015, a much newer study was published that looked at the forces placed on the ankle through different types of basketball shoes and how they could prevent ankle sprains. The study featured 622 college recreational players, and the study turned pretty conclusive results.
The study concluded that “There was no significant difference among these 3 groups (high-tops, high-tops with air chambers and low-top, leading to the conclusion that there is no strong relationship between shoe type and ankle sprains“.
The study did not find that basketball players who used low top shoes were getting sprained ankles more often than basketball players wearing high top shoes (Low, 2015). You can check out the study in full here.
There are some studies in the past that have reported that high-top shoes in comparison to low-top shoes decrease the amount and rate of inversion and decrease the risk of ankle sprains.
But it can be difficult to estimate how legitimate these claims are when marketing of high-top shoes are involved. So in simple terms: Do high-top basketball shoes prevent ankle sprains? No they don’t. That seems to be the consensus thought, despite limited evidence against that claim.
However, one of the other things that scientific research has identified is that full ankle support is not always a good thing.
Hypothetically, if high-top basketball shoes were able to fully support the ankle and prevent these sprains, the same force would be pushed through the tibia, fibula and the knee.
An ankle sprain is bad, but putting more force through the knee can lead to tendon and ligament damage, which is season ending for any professional basketball player.
It took Klay Thompson more than two years to be completely healthy again after tearing his ACL, so taking all the force off the ankle may not be a good thing. The same applies for players with plantar fasciitis.
What Causes sprained ankles in basketball players?
Basketball is one of the most common sports that encounters ankle sprains, and this Is for good reason. The fast-paced, agile movement is exactly the environment which leads to such injury.
An ankle sprain is caused by landing incorrectly, whether that’s from a jump or step. When the foot lands incorrectly, the foot can turn underneath the leg, which stretches the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. This is due to the balance of the player when landing.
If your balance is not central over your foot, you can get your foot stuck underneath you. So if your leg is trying to move forward while your foot has landed, it causes the ankle to roll.
The ankle itself rolling is what causes the injury, as this stretches the ligaments on the outside of the ankle, which is what we know as a sprained ankle.
In moderate sprains, this means the ligaments can be damaged due to the stretching. Some of the most severe sprained ankles mean that the ligaments on the outside of the ankle may be torn or ruptured. These are the sorts of injuries that can keep basketball players out of action for multiple months.
How to Prevent Ankle injuries When Playing Basketball?
The academic studies I cited above do not find any link between ankle injuries and the shoe type, but they did find some correlation between a few other factors and ankle injuries. Firstly, the studies found that players who warmed up properly were less likely to experience ankle injuries.
Warming up is one of the best ways to prevent ankle injuries as the muscle and ligaments are more flexible if they are warm and so can hold steady under more force. You can also strengthen the ankle through mobility training, which helps the flexibility of the ankle and prevents injury.
The key part of ankle sprains is rolling your ankle, and the best way to prevent ankle rolling is with better stability and traction. Working on being completely in control of your movements can help prevent ankle rolling, as well as finding shoes that stop you from uncontrollable skidding, as this puts sudden force onto the ankle which could cause a sprain.
With this being such a huge issue in basketball, “UCHealth” released a video on exactly how you can prevent ankle injury during basketball.
It is a great indication of the things that you can do on the court to prevent ankle injuries, as they can keep a basketball player out for a very long time if it is not treated properly.
What are the best basketball shoes to prevent ankle sprains?
There is no specific basketball shoe that is better than any other as the research shows. So there is not any specific basketball shoe that is best at preventing ankle sprains. Possibly getting a higher quality shoe might prevent slipping which is a cause of ankle sprains.
Still, some of my basketball teammates claim that they suffer less ankle injuries when playing with “Jordan 36”.
What are the major pros and cons of low-top basketball shoes?
Pros of high-top basketball shoes:
- More ankle support thanks to the higher collar (based on some studies)
- More durability
- Better ankle lock-in
- Increased cushioning and responsiveness
Cons of high-top basketball shoes:
- Heavier than low-tops
- Restricted ankle movement
Pros of low-top basketball shoes:
- Lighter than high-tops
- Larger choice of selection thanks to the bigger market share
- Better movement control with no restrictions
Cons of low-top basketball shoes:
- Low impact protection
- Not as sturdy as high-tops
- More loose at the ankle area
It does not necessarily mean though that there are not advantages to low-cut shoes for basketball. They are comfortable and often players prefer the lower top as it gives slightly more freedom to the ankle and foot. It is why almost half of NBA players wear low top shoes during their games.
Low-top basketball shoes don’t always look quite as good as high top and some people tend to find high-top basketball shoes to be more comfortable.
Do low-top sneakers increase the chance of spraining your ankle when playing basketball?
Low top sneakers also do not increase the chance of spraining your ankle while playing basketball. As the high top shoes do not offer support, deciding to wear low top shoes instead does not bring any additional risk of ankle injury as both shoes do not offer ankle support if your ankle was to roll due to poor stability.
High-top vs low-top basketball shoes: Which is better to prevent ankle injury?
Neither high-top or low-top basketball shoes are better at preventing ankle injury, as many studies have found no correlation in the type of shoe and the regularity of ankle injury.
Do high top shoes help with ankle support?
High tops do offer a lot of the same advantages but there are of course major misconceptions with high-top shoes for basketball. The extra few inches that you get with high top basketball shoes do not support the ankle as it is not strong or tight enough to the ankle to provide any support.
Do high-tops prevent ankle roll?
On one hand, high-tops don’t provide better support than low-tops so they don’t necessarily prevent ankle roll. Many scientific researches show no correlation between ankle roll and wearing high-top basketball shoes.
On the other hand, there is a study that suggests that wearing high-top basketball shoes could lead to decreased ankle injuries.
That’s due to the fact that most high-tops are laced up high above the ankles, thus locking the ankles, which could prevent twisting and rolling.
Do high-tops weaken ankles?
High top shoes could potentially weaken ankles. In basketball you need fast movements across the court and high-top basketball shoes can often cause discomfort in these movements that could potentially weaken the ankle. That’s because high-tops often have stiff materials that doesn’t provide enough
Low, D. (2015, April). Understanding the Effect of High-Cut shoes, Running shoes and Prophylactic Supports on Ankle Stability When Performing a “V”-Cut Movement . Retrieved from Research Gate : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279231866_Understanding_the_Effect_of_High-Cut_Shoes_Running_Shoes_and_Prophylactic_Supports_on_Ankle_Stability_When_Performing_a_V-Cut_Movement
R.Barrett, J. (1993, July ). High versus low top shoes for the prevention of ankle sprains in basketball players. Retrieved from Research Gate : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/14831725_High-_versus_low-top_shoes_for_the_prevention_of_ankle_sprains_in_basketball_players_A_prospective_randomized_study
Mark D. Ricard, PhD Effects of High-Top and Low-Top Shoes on Ankle Inversion https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1323436/