Are Low-Top Basketball Shoes Safe?

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Shoes tend to follow basic trends and guidelines in different sports -- baseball players often use grass-friendly cleats, for example. In basketball, the tradition is to stick to high-top shoes with treads meant to grip the court. The idea is that the high tops help prevent ankle injuries, but low tops might be just as safe.

Why Go Low?

In addition to providing a more modern look than old-school high-top shoes, low tops are lighter and help you gain extra speed on the court. The light weight -- sometimes up to 20 percent lighter than standard high tops -- also helps your fatigue level, giving you more time on the court because you don't have to work so hard to pick up your feet.

Problems with Low Tops

Unlike high tops, low tops don't come up around your ankle, which means they don't offer support for sudden turns and on-the-go landings. With ankle injuries topping the list of injuries among professional basketball players, many people oppose using low tops. Basketball podiatrist Dr. Michael Lowe says that the lesser stability offered by low tops is likely to lead to ankle injuries. This might especially be true for people who don't train as athletes, such as those playing in local leagues or pick-up games.

Why High Tops Help

High tops might be heavier than low tops, but they offer extra benefits. They lace high enough to add ankle support and help keep players from turning their ankles with sudden direction changes. These shoes usually have more support and cushioning inside as well, which helps prevent stress fractures and other injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. However, research differs on how big a difference high tops make. Most researchers agree that the number of ankle injuries in high tops vs. low tops are about the same, but many believe the injuries tend to be more severe when the players where low tops.

Keeping It Safe

While there's no way to completely prevent ankle injuries when you play basketball, taking a few precautions when you wear low tops can help. Dr. Lowe recommends ankle braces, which come up a bit higher than high-top shoes. Another option is taping your ankles to provide extra support as you jump and execute fast stops and starts. If you go with the tape, use strong athletic tape and support your ankle by wrapping the tape under your foot as well as around your ankle.