For years, basketball players were encouraged to wear high tops because it was believed they prevent a player from rolling his ankle. But recently, players such as Kobe Bryant have worn mid and low tops on the court. Is there reason to believe that one of these types of shoes is safer than any other?
Yes, high tops appear to help with ankle injuries.
A study was done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information to determine if there was a difference in ankle rotation when wearing high tops compared to wearing low tops. In the study the participants stood on a platform on one foot and the platform would be released at a random time which would turn the base of the foot by 35°. The degree and rate of ankle inversion was measured to determine the amount of stress that was being exerted on the participant's ankle. The following is the conclusion of the study:
High-top shoes reduced the amount of inversion by 4.5°, the maximum rate of inversion by 100.1°/s, and the average rate of inversion by 73.00°/s when compared with low-top shoes. Depending upon the loading conditions, subjects wearing high-top shoes may reduce their risk of ankle sprains.
Now, as to why some players prefer to play in low top shoes, this article from ESPN explains that Kobe Bryant was originally inspired by soccer players who exert similar strain on their ankles in low top shoes. According to the article, low top shoes weigh 20% less which provides the player with more energy and greater ability to change direction. Also, most professional players have their ankles taped and wrapped before each game whether they wear high tops or not which also helps with preventing ankle injury. Kobe Bryant is quoted in the article:
I've been playing basketball all my life and I've worn high-tops for a lot of those games, and I've rolled my ankle plenty wearing high-tops. If you come down on somebody's foot, you're going to roll your ankle and there's not a lot you can do about it. But to have a low, I feel like it gives your foot more freedom to change direction.
Here's another study that supports the idea that high-tops prevent injury: http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4663/2/4/85
I have coached football and basketball among other sports for over 25 years. About 15 years ago I made a big push to get my teams in low or mid tops. The reason where the following:
- players ran faster
- players had more ability to cut and switch directions (their input not timed)
- I had too many players losing major playing time due to high ankle sprains
- at the time high tops where very poorly designed for speed
What we noticed is that players got more sprained ankles if they were new to wearing lows. Not a lot more but maybe a 20% increase. But during the first three years we had no more than 2 high ankle sprains a year. Down from 10-15 in years before. Given that a sprained ankle would keep a kid out of practice for 2-3 days and a high ankle sprain from 2 weeks to the whole season, we were extremely happy with the results.
The only issue we had was, what to do with our bigs. The lineman in football were iffy with going low and same for centers. A few refused. The rest did mids. I can say this. We unequivocally had no issues with high ankle sprains with players in lows and no other ankle wraps. Your ankle will generally sprain at the lowest spot available.