Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Basketball Shoes

Fall is here.

Know what that means?

That’s right—it’s almost basketball season! The pros start up next month, while colleges and high schools around Ohio play their first games in November.

And of course, there’s you!

If you like to play a lot of basketball, gearing up with the right shoes can make a huge difference in your game—and also greatly reduce your risk of painful foot and ankle injuries. That’s true whether you play in a competitive league, or whether you just like to shoot hoops with your buddies on the court or at the gym.


First Up: Why Do I Need Basketball Shoes in the First Place?

Let’s get this out of the way first, in case the thought had crossed your mind.

Basically, the answer is that not all sports present the same set of challenges and risks for your feet and ankles. So, sport-specific shoes all have different attributes that complement the demands of their sport.

For example, a pair of basketball shoes has to compensate for more side-to-side motion or starts and stops than a pair of running shoes, which only have to consider the biomechanics of straight-ahead motion.

We’ll get more into that as we discuss the finer points of buying basketball shoes below. But the bottom line is that if you play hoops regularly, you should have a pair of basketball shoes.

They don’t necessarily have to be expensive. But you should have them if you care about playing your best—and going home with feet that are healthy and happy, rather than sore and injured!

About Those High Tops

Unlike most other athletic shoes—which are usually cut fairly low around the ankle—basketball shoes often have much higher “collars” around the top of the upper. But this isn’t universally the case! In fact, you can find basketball shoes in “high top,” “mid top”, and “low top” configurations.

What’s best? Each comes with certain pros, cons, and tradeoffs. Your position, playing style, skill level, and personal preference for balancing performance all play a part.

High top basketball shoes are going to offer you the greatest amount of support and stability for your ankles and are generally the safest shoes on the court. You’re less likely to roll or sprain your ankle during a sudden weight shift—or at the very least, the injury is likely to be less severe. That said, high tops are heavier than other shoe styles and may somewhat restrict motion.

Low tops are just the opposite. Here, the lighter weight and unencumbered ankles allow for more speed and agility, and less fatigue. But that lack of ankle support may put you at greater risk of getting hurt. Of course, you could also opt for mid tops, which try to find a compromise between the two extremes.

In practice, the added protection of high tops is often favored by centers and, in general, larger players who play a more aggressive game with more physical contact. On the other hand, competitive guards who rely on speed to get past defenders might take the gamble with a lower cut.

You should always weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully before deciding.

Experienced Parma & Rocky River Podiatrist. Playing basketball

What Are Your Uppers Made Out Of?

It isn’t just the height of the cuff the determines the support and flexibility of the basketball shoes. The choice of materials also has an effect.

For example, those high top styles often get paired with uppers made from harder materials, like rubber or certain synthetics. They may be less mobile and less breathable, but also generally offer the greatest degree of stability. But you can also find shoes with soft woven fabric uppers, as well as semi-rigid synthetics.

Again, materials are going to have tradeoffs in terms of stability and support vs. flexibility and breathability.

Outstanding Outsoles

The outsole, sole, or “bottom” (if you will) of your basketball shoes is what provides balance and grip on the court.

Generally speaking, most basketball shoes feature wide, relatively flat outsoles optimized for balance. You should also check the tread pattern on the shoe. Many basketball shoes feature some kind of herringbone pattern in the treads. Basketball demands “fancy footwork” in multiple directions—straight ahead running, side to side, pivoting—and herringbone treads offer fantastic traction in all circumstances.

One other significant consideration here is where you plan on playing your basketball—on an outdoor blacktop or an indoor gym. Most basketball shoes (especially the more expensive ones) are built for indoor play and can get torn up quickly in harsher outdoor conditions. If you do most of your playing on the blacktop, look for the thickest and most rugged soles you can find.

Don’t Forget the Midsole!

Ah, the midsole. This is the part of the shoe that people tend to know the least about, but it’s arguably the most important.

Midsoles are the part of the shoe most responsible for cushioning and shock absorption. As the name suggests, they are located between the outsole at the bottom of the shoe and the insole.

Give basketball’s vigorous, high-impact nature—running, jumping, and landing on hard surfaces all day long—the importance of good cushioning in your midsole is obvious.

The midsoles on basketball shoes tend to be the thinnest toward the front of the shoe, and thickest underneath the heels. On top of that, many basketball shoes feature additional heel cushioning (air bubbles, gel cushioning, etc.) beyond the midsole itself.

That said, different styles of shoes vary in terms of the thickness and firmness of the cushioning. Once again, there are tradeoffs to be made. A thicker midsole usually means more shock absorption and less foot fatigue, but thinner and firmer midsoles that keep your feet closer to the floor may feel quicker and more responsive.

If you find that you often have pain after playing, you might want to look for a pair of shoes with a more robust cushioned midsole, which could be thicker or made from higher quality materials. This is especially true for heavier players, for the simple reason that more weight equals more impact force on your feet every time you step or land.


Don’t Buy Used

A quick word here.

Even the best, most expensive, most durable basketball shoes eventually wear down. And when they do, they just can’t give you the support, stability, and cushioning you rely on to play your best without pain.

All shoes tend to “conform” to the specific foot structures of their owner. When you put on another person’s old shoes, these existing contours can create painful friction and pressure spots where they don’t match your feet.

Throw in the fact that used shoes could be harboring bacteria or fungi from a previous owner, and it’s pretty clear that buying new is always the best choice.

Again, you don’t necessarily have to spend hundreds of dollars. But a nice, new pair of shoes that fits your feet, your body, and your game are a must.

Enjoy Your Game!

So, go forth and get yourself a great, comfortable pair of basketball shoes. Be sure to measure your feet first and test out your shoes in the store. They should feel comfortable, responsive, and fit your feet well without sliding around.

If you do suffer from foot pain or injury on the court, make sure you stop in and see the podiatric sports injury team at Ripepi & Associates Foot & Ankle Clinics. Athletes demand high performance and the shortest possible recovery times from their injuries, and our team works hard to get you back in the game as quickly as possible.

To schedule an appointment, please call us at (440) 843-3692 today.

Dr. Joseph Ripepi
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Ohio podiatrist helping patients with diabetic foot care, foot pain, plantar fasciitis, and sports injuries
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