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Do High Top Shoes Protect Ankles Better?

Ankle sprains are among the most common sport injuries, especially among hikers and trail runners who walk along uneven terrain. 

The theory behind high top shoes is that because the shoe is laced above the ankle bones, they offer more support to joints and ligaments in the area, thus preventing injury. 

Is it true that high top shoes are better for preventing ankle sprains? We did a deep dive to find out.

Types of Ankle Sprains

There are two main types of ankle sprain injuries: lateral and medial sprains.

Lateral sprains, which are also called inversion sprains, are the most common. This type of sprain happens when the foot rolls to the inside and you feel pain on the outside of the ankle. 

Because of their extensive ligament structure, ankles are notoriously susceptible to injury. Unfortunately, for most, once you tear a ligament, you’re likely to continue to injure that same ankle repeatedly because the ligaments lose strength and flexibility.

Regular calf and ankle strengthening exercises can help prevent ankle sprains, even after a bad sprain.

Common causes of ankle injuries include:

  • Walking or running on uneven surfaces
  • Landing awkwardly from a jump
  • Playing high impact sports where your foot might become trapped, like soccer or basketball

Do High-Top Shoes Really Prevent Ankle Sprains?

While your foot certainly feels more secure inside a high top shoe, does the added support actually do anything to prevent ankle sprains?

Ankle sprains are particularly common in sports like basketball, which require frequent stops and changes of direction.

Basketball players also have a high frequency of ankle injuries. 

Studies on the topic show mixed results. Due to the expense and difficulty of conducting a proper study on this topic, they are rare.

Factors, like traction, stiffness of the sole, heel height, and stability of the foot all go into determining whether a likely ankle sprain is on the horizon. 

In fact, high top shoes may actually lead to ankle injuries.

A more supportive shoe does not allow the muscles of the foot to adequately build the strength to do its job. Therefore, the muscles become weak and rely on the shoe to do the stabilization work. 

If you’ve ever broken a bone and had to wear a cast, you’ll understand. Think about how weak your muscle was after removing the cast you wore for six weeks. It’s because you didn’t use that muscle at all during that time.

All of the shoes we design at Lems promote this theory and is the reason we create and advocate for minimalist and zero-drop shoes.

Even if a high-top shoe does protect the ankle better during an activity like hiking, it could lead to ankle sprains off the trail, doing basic everyday motions, like stepping awkwardly on a rock while walking your dog.

Further, a high-top shoe may have better ankle support, but the stiffness of the shoe could result in a knee injury instead.

What is Best for Preventing Ankle Sprains?

If you suffer from repeated ankle sprains, an alternative, and often more supportive solution is to either tape your ankle, or wear an ankle brace.

While there is no brace out there that can guarantee that you won’t roll your ankle, they do provide stronger support than high top shoes.

If you do go the brace route, consult with your physical therapist or physician to determine the best option for your needs. There are a lot on the market and making a selection can be overwhelming.

Ultimately, the best prevention for ankle sprains has nothing to do with shoes or braces, it has to do with ankle strength. In addition to regular exercise, we believe that minimalist or zero-drop shoes, like those we make at Lems, are ideal for preventing injuries like ankle sprains.

Because of the minimal or zero-drop, the feet are closer to the ground, meaning the center of gravity is closer to what you feel walking barefoot. Further, the softer soles of minimalist shoes offer the feet more tactile feedback so they can respond to uneven surfaces more quickly.

For hikes and trail running, we recommend the soon to be available Outlander boot, or the popular Trailhead shoe! Both shoes will provide the support you want for rocky terrain, while also allowing the muscles to do their job, thus building that ankle and foot strength.

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