Who doesn't fear an ankle injury or sprain taking you out for weeks -- especially when you're thriving from being active?
Any type of ankle sprain or injury isn't just painful when it happens. It's an annoying, annoying injury that can go on for weeks. Stiff, sore muscles can make it hard enough to walk around, not to mention that you'll miss a run or a workout.
It's no surprise that people who run or exercise regularly will try to prevent these painful injuries in any way possible. While there is no device that can completely prevent ankle injuries, that doesn't mean safe support is impossible. With the right shoes, braces, and exercise regime, you can give your ankle the support it needs without negatively impacting your performance.
To find out the best ankle support and whether high-top sneakers are better than low-tops, we interviewed plastic surgeon Sara Lyn Miniaci-Coxhead, MD.
The case for shoe stability
On the surface, the idea of a high-top sneaker offering more ankle support might seem right. Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead says the comfort protection of high-top sneakers can certainly make your ankle feel more stable, but the real question is whether this extra support will prevent ankle sprains.
She said that was still an open question.
"There's some research showing that there is less pronation of the foot (which is the main mechanism for ankle sprains) when wearing high-top shoes," she said. "However, there are also studies showing that high-tops do not prevent excessive handstands in dynamic situations."
So does the type of activity you engage in matter?
"I think people who participate in sports with a higher risk of ankle sprains, such as basketball, may benefit from high-top shoes," Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead said. They can also help those who are recovering from ankle injuries or are more vulnerable, she added.
However, high-tops aren't the only way to get extra support. "Research suggests that high-tops, ankle braces, and straps may all be equally effective at supporting the ankle," she says.
The case for ankle braces
As with shoes, there is no perfect brace that will guarantee you won't sprain your ankle at one point or another. But braces are still a great way to provide stronger ankle support to better prevent ankle sprains, especially during strenuous physical activity.
Ankle braces have come a long way over the years, and many now provide support without sacrificing too much comfort or flexibility. But there are also almost overwhelming options and variations.
To make sure you choose the best brace for you, talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist, who can also help you with this process. It may take a lot of sampling to find the right brace for you, but it's essential to make sure you get as much support as possible - and don't risk additional injury.
While ankle splints are used to stabilize the ankle, they are used for injuries or other medical conditions that affect the ankle. They are not suitable for any form of athletic use. If you think you need an ankle splint, talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist.
Ankle Strength Case
While it may seem like high-tops help, Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead says the best way to prevent ankle sprains is not so much what you wear on your ankle as it is the strength of your ankle.
In fact, she says, studies have shown that the muscles in the everted ankle (thus helping to prevent sprains) may activate more slowly in high-top and low-top shoes.
"Another study showed that while all these devices (shoes, braces, etc.) help support the ankle, the most important thing to prevent inversion moments is activating the muscles that evert the foot," she said.
So yes, high-tops and braces can help support your ankle, but, "The best prevention for a varus injury is to have strong muscles on the outside of the foot (valgus), and wearing high-tops can cause these muscles later on. Activated, the effect decreases," said Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead.
Ultimately, she says, wearing high-top shoes or a brace can help support the ankle, but muscle strength may be more important than any shoe, brace or tape when it comes to preventing injury.
Post-Injury Physical Therapy
If your ankle has already been injured, it's important to maintain recovery exercises as pain allows. Treating an injured ankle can help prevent further, repetitive injuries that can lead to joint problems.
While everyone's body and its recovery is different, Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead says you should be able to start careful recovery stretches and exercises within a few days of your injury. But watch your body. If you experience pain, stop exercising and always consult your healthcare provider.
Range-of-motion exercises can help relax the muscles and ligaments around the ankle without putting too much stress on them. An example is the ankle loop. From a seated position, lift the injured ankle off the ground and rotate your foot in a slow circle in one direction, repeating 10 times. When done, repeat the exercise in the other direction.
Resistance band exercises can also help improve strength and flexibility as the ankle heals. Doing so should help prevent additional ankle sprains when you return to full activity.
For a complete list of stretches and exercises that can strengthen a sprained ankle, talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist.
Tips for Avoiding Sprains
While many sprains can only heal with home treatment, they may also require a visit to the doctor. So, putting aside the shoe debate, here are some things to reduce your risk of sprains and injuries:
Whether it's a high-top or low-top, choose shoes that fit your feet. The same goes for the ankle brace.
- Watch out for slippery gym floors or uneven areas on the playing field. Pay special attention to running on uneven ground or surfaces
- Do some stretching every day.
- Begin to warm up and stretch slowly before exercising or exercising.
- If you are injured or tired, do not exercise or play games.
- Eat a healthy diet to feed your muscles well.
- If you are overweight, try to maintain a healthy weight.
If you keep these tips in mind and keep your ankles strong, you may be able to choose your favorite shoes or the best shoes for whatever activity you do.