Who doesn’t dread that ankle injury or sprain that sidelines you for weeks — especially when you thrive on being active? It’s not surprising that people who run or work out regularly will try to prevent these painful injuries any way possible. This can mean searching for the “right” shoe.
Is there really a right shoe? Would high-top athletic shoes, for example, provide better ankle support? The short answer is from medical experts is: It depends.
The case for shoe stability
We asked orthopaedic surgeon Sara Lyn Miniaci-Coxhead, MD, if high-top athletic shoes are really better for your ankles than the low-cut options. She says the snug protection of high-top athletic shoes can certainly make your ankles feel more stable, but the real question is whether that extra support prevents ankle sprains.
And that’s a question that is still very debatable, she says.
“There are a few studies that suggest the foot inverts less (which is the main mechanism of an ankle sprain) when wearing high-top shoes,” she says. “However, there are also studies saying that, in a dynamic situation, high-top shoes did not prevent excessive inversion.”
So does the type of activity you’re doing matter?
“I think people participating in sports that tend to have a higher risk for ankle sprains (basketball, for example) may benefit from a high-top shoe,” Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead says. She adds that they also may help those who are recovering from an ankle injury or who are more prone to injuries.
However, high-top shoes aren’t the only way to get extra support. “Studies show that high-top shoes, ankle braces and taping are likely all equal in their effectiveness in supporting the ankle,” she says.
The case for ankle strength
While it may seem that high-tops help, Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead says that the best way to prevent an ankle sprain is less about what you put on the ankle, and more about how strong your ankles are.
In fact, she says, research shows that the muscles that evert the ankle (therefore helping prevent sprains) may activate more slowly in high-top vs. low-top shoes.
“Another study demonstrated that even though all those devices (shoes, braces, etc.) are helpful in supporting the ankle, the most important thing in preventing an inversion moment is activation of the muscles that evert the foot.”
So, yes, high-tops can help support your ankles, but, “the best prevention for an inversion injury is having strong muscles on the outside of the foot (evertors), and wearing high-top shoes can cause these muscles to activate later and be less effective,” Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead says.
In the end, she says, wearing high-tops could help support your ankles, but muscle strength is likely more important than any shoe, brace or taping in preventing injuries.
Tips for avoiding sprains
While many sprains heal with only home treatment, they also can require a visit to the doctor. So, putting the shoe debate aside, here are some things that reduce your risk of sprains and injuries:
- Whether they’re high-tops or low-cut, choose shoes that fit well.
- Watch out for slippery gym floors or uneven areas on playing fields.
- Do some stretches every day.
- Start slow to warm up and stretch before sports or your workout.
- Don’t exercise or get in a game if you’re hurt or tired.
- Eat a healthy diet to feed your muscles well.
- If you’re overweight, work toward a healthy weight.
If you keep these tips in mind and keep your ankles strong, you can probably choose the shoes that you like the best, or the ones that are most comfortable for whatever activity you have in mind.