Home Blog Unstable Ankles: It Ain’t Just the Sneakers

Unstable Ankles: It Ain’t Just the Sneakers

Written on October 27, 2010 at 6:24 am, by Eric Cressey

I got the following questions from a Show and Go customer this morning and thought I’d turn it into a quick Q&A:

Do high-top basketball shoes provide any significant stability and safety advantages over low-tops that would make me NOT want to buy low-tops? When I played hoops in high school my ankles rolled over at least once every few months, so it feels obvious that there’s a lot more to the stability equation than the height of the ankle on the shoe.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I sent him to these two articles:

Nike Shox and High Heels
The Importance of Ankle Mobility

Then, I gave him the following advice: “I would never put one of my athletes in high-tops. The introduction of the high top and the addition of big heel lifts in sneakers is, in my eyes, the cause of the epidemic of anterior knee pain and the emergence of high ankle sprains. And, you’re right that there is more to the stability equation than the height of the shoe: the muscles and tendons of the lower leg (particularly the peroneals) actually have to do some work to prevent ankle sprains. Put yourself in a concrete block of a shoe and tape your ankles and you are just asking all those muscles to shut down.”

For more information on truly functional stability training for the lower leg and core, check out my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training.

Sign-up today for our FREE newsletter and receive a video on how to deadlift with correct technique!


5 Responses to “Unstable Ankles: It Ain’t Just the Sneakers”

  1. Andy Says:

    If you are looking for a pair of basketball shoes I’d look at the Kobe’s. He has designed his shoe with the soccer player in mind and it is a low top, very light shoe that still has good ankle support. It is modeled alot like a soccer shoe and soccer players for the most part have very strong ankles. Steve Nash also wears a similar shoe.

  2. Andy Cook Says:


    I have a client who has poor ankle mobility. He is an 18 years old middle infielder. A doctor told him at a young age that he had short achilles tendons when he came in with heel pain and then prescribed heel cups. I would guess this robbed him of some ankle mobility and he now moves by “out-toeing” with his knees falling inward. He has also sprained both ankles within the last few years. We have been working on his ankle mobility for about six months and he can still only move his knee about an inch past his toe during a “Wall Ankle Mob”. It took him a while to develop a proper squat pattern with his knees out, and he can only go an inch above parallel before his lower back starts to round. He still has valgus knee movement while jumping and landing. We have been doing a lot of single-leg exercises (lunges, reverse lunges, split squats, deadlifts, etc.) while focusing on how his knee moves. Anyway, let me finally get to my questions. Is it possible that this is as far as he will get with his ankle mobility? Could we push it farther with something like barefoot hill sprints? Are there any other types of exercises that we can be doing to improve the way his knee tracks while performing athletic movements? Should he be trying to retrain his body to walk with his “toes-in” in a pair of Nike Frees or maybe wrestling shoes? Is there any other advice you could give me?

    Andy Cook
    Evansville, IN

  3. Alan Says:

    Would you recommend basketball athletes take care of their ankles/lower leg musculature by wearing low-top shoes during practices (since you know none of those athletes will want to be seen without their Jordans in the game…)?

    It seems that could at least be a start towards introducing some mobility down there…

  4. Fraser Dods Says:

    To Andy Cook,
    First and foremost you need to have your athlete’s lower extremities adequately assessed by a professional to determine just what the limiting factor is in his tibial progression. The body always moves through the path of least resistance, so when it encounters resistance to tibial progression it tries to compensate with any number of compensations (forefoot abduction, excessive pronation, rearfoot valgus, tibial internal rotation, femoral internal rotation). It may be (most commonly in a late adolescent) that the lack of tibial progression is due to soft tissue tightness/hypertonicity of the posterior compartment of the lower leg and calf muscles, in which case a ton of deep tissue work (trigger point, acupressure, deep massage) may alleviate and eventually allow stretching to effectively lengthen the posterior structures eventually resulting greater dorsiflexion and better ‘knee past toes’. If the talocrural or subtalar joints are stiff, they need to be mobilized. There could be tarsal coalition or any number of somewhat rare bony anomalies that could be contributing to the problem – these need to be ruled out by a qualified professional. Until you determine just what the source of the restriction is, attempting to “push” for more range of motion will result in compensations elsewhere and the potential to create serious long-term problems in joints and tissues that are compensating for the lack of dorsiflexion/tibial progression.

  5. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Great post, Eric!
    The book ‘Born to Run’ bry Christopher McDougal, definitely had a bic impact for me 🙂

  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series