Injury Investigation: High Tops vs Low Tops?

On April 12th, 2013, Kobe Bryant limped off the court against the Golden State Warriors after hitting his two free throws. With a ruptured Achilles tendon, the Lakers’ postseason hopes, slim as they already were, were over. It was a freak injury. It could have happened to anybody, anywhen. He was cutting to the basket, when his left ankle just gave out from under him. A combination of age, increased playing time in the spring, and regular wear and tear from play have been cited as causes for the rupture, but what if it was something else?
The furor around the release of Kobe’s first low cut sneakers in 2008 passed without much notice, but sneakerheads remembered. “I just feel like if I can have a lighter shoe, my ankle can move the way it was intended to move,” Kobe said, in interviews from 2008. Experts chimed in and warned that the extra support that high tops provided couldn’t be made up with braces or tape, and warned players could be more susceptible to ankle injury. And we wondered if the ankle support from a high top sneaker could have prevented the Mamba’s injury.
We spoke with Jason Piekarz, a certified athletic therapist, and owner of Toronto’s Centre for Sport and Recreation Medicine. From 1995 to 2000, he worked for the Toronto Argonauts, dealing with the injuries that professional athletes accrue over the course of a grating, 18 game season. We asked him about his experience in dealing with basketball injuries. “Probably the most common is ankle injuries and knee injuries. General sort of turning your ankle, rolling over on it, and getting a lateral type ankle sprain,” Piekarz said.
As for high tops vs low tops, Piekarz said it wasn’t his area of study but said “the more support you have, the safer it’s going to be. Just wearing a high top basketball shoe isn’t going to weaken your ankle any, but I think it’ll give you a little added support.”
Nirtal Shah is a physiotherapist at the University of Toronto’s David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic. He was very serious about the impact that a low top sneaker can have on a player, saying “high tops, at the last check of the literature, are actually better for trying to prevent ankle injuries, as opposed to low tops.”
“I don’t want to overstate it. It’s not the only factor. But high top shoes can at least help,” said Shah.
We went to see a rec league game at a community centre in Scarborough. Some guys still favoured high tops, like the Adidas Conductor, but the majority of players wore lower cut sneakers, either KDs or Kobes. Peter Czerwony is 23, and plays point guard. He wears Nike’s KD IV, a low top sneaker.
“I really don’t know. It’s lighter than a high top, so I’m faster,” Czerwony said. When we asked him about the possibility of injury, Czerwony said “I always tape before I play, and I always wear a [ankle] brace so I don’t think it’s a big problem.”
Piekarz said “I’m a big fan of taping… I know athletes who will get taped, and put an ankle brace on, and yet maybe they’ll wear a lower top shoe.” But Shah disagreed. “The restrictive factor that taping your ankle provides, is usually gone within the first five to seven, to maybe ten minutes. Because the tape gets wet through sweat, because the tape is essentially made of cloth, that cloth stretches as it gets wet. So the actual restrictive nature of tape is limited after the first few minutes of warmups.”
Shah added that “tape does help… it provides some proprioceptive feedback around your ankle. That just means it gives you a sense of where your ankle is a little bit better, than were you not wearing the tape. And that’s where it’s supposed to help.”
Both Piekarz and Shah agreed however, that conditioning ankle muscles was the best way to prevent injury. “Everybody’s used to going to the gym and working out, doing squats and curls and things like that. But you do got to strengthen your ankles,” said Piekarz. Shah said “the best thing you can do is actually perform balance exercises… Everything from standing on one leg with your eyes closed, to standing on uneven surfaces like balance boards and discs to improve your stability. “
Around the same time that this article was being written, Kobe was making steady progress on his Achilles rehab, and promised media that he would be ready for the next season. Images of the next KD sneaker and next Kobe have been seen online. Both will be low tops.

But the writers at BALLnROLL, who have favoured Kobes for several years, may be making the switch to LeBrons. Images of the LeBron XI have surfaced online. They’re high tops.


Cj at 01 Oct 2013

High top high tops high tops

Cj at 01 Oct 2013

High top high tops high tops

Guest at 08 Nov 2013

low top

Guest at 30 Nov 2014

Played in low tops my whole life. First game in new high top Kamikazes I rolled my ankle. Second time I f'ed up my knee. Back to low tops for me.

Bainer at 11 Feb 2015

Research implies that this article is pure speculation. There is no discernible difference between low tops and high tops when it comes to injuries. Play in what makes you comfortable, just don't pretend that the high tops make you comfortable because th

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