Sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries in the world. In the United States alone there are an estimated fifteen to twenty-five thousand new cases daily. It’s certainly among the most common injuries seen in emergency rooms and hospitals. So is there any ways to reduce this number?
There is. And it starts with shoes.
Modern shoes are becoming more and more technologically advanced. Better materials, stronger cushioning, and more comfortable designs. Unfortunately, none of these contribute to foot and ankle health. Surprised? So was I.
There is actually very little research done on the REAL effectiveness of a shoe’s design before it is sent out. In fact, recent research is showing that the cushioned, high-tech shoes are resulting in more injuries instead of preventing them.
There are several reasons modern athletic shoes don’t prevent ankle sprains. Most modern athletic shoes are designed to be more comfortable, especially around the heel. The impact isn’t felt so much, so there is less impulse to roll of the ankle onto the rest of the foot. The repeated impact right on the joint can throw all kinds of bones and connective tissues out of alignment.
Additionally, the extra support of the ankles (combined with more limited motion) weakens the muscles of the ankle. This means that when the ankle rolls or twists, it isn’t able to self-correct and it hyper-extends, causing a sprain.
Finally, in shoes with thick soles (or high heels), there is more force placed on the foot whenever it actually does roll or twist. This is a simple levering action, the longer the lever arm (or higher the shoe sole), the more force is applied to the ankle.
So this begs the question, “Which shoes are the best to prevent ankle injury?” Many physical trainers and coaches are now leaning towards training barefoot whenever possible. When this isn’t possible, lightweight, flexible shoes are now preferred. When looking for new training shoes, look for the following features:
Flexibility – The entire shoe should allow full mobility of the foot and ankle. The toes should be able to bend and the ankle able to move in a complete circle.
Thin Sole – A thin sole (or at least very flexible) is ideal for strengthening the foot and maintaining stability. There are lots of shoes out there with thinner soles.
Mobility – It’s important that the ankle can move in complete circles. This may be uncomfortable at first, but it will strengthen the muscles of the foot and ankle and prevent a lot of injuries.
Now there are certainly special cases where a more advanced shoe will help prevent ankle sprains, so if you’re ever in doubt check with a doctor or physiotherapist. Or get several opinions. But it’s important to have strong, healthy ankles to prevent injuries, and the right shoes will help get you there.
Here are some shoes I would recommend:
The Vibram Fivefinger KomodoSport LS
The Vibram shoes are almost as good as going barefoot when it comes to re-training the ankles and feet.
Nike Free shoes have a special flexible sole to give the foot way more flexibility.