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Ankle Stability & Your Running Shoes

With Steve Manning, Podiatrist, intraining Running Centre

Ankle sprains are largely caused by bad luck when you have stepped on a rock or uneven surface that forces your ankle to roll outwards or inwards beyond the capacity of your muscles and ligaments to control.

The result is an unstable ankle with an increased risk of further sprains due to damage to the neuromuscular system to perceive and control your ankle stability.

That is why rehabilitation is critical for even minor sprains.

Five Footwear Factors  to consider:

While worn or inappropriate shoes may increase your risk of spraining an ankle they are rarely a direct cause of the sprain.  Here are some footwear factors to consider that may contribute to spraining an ankle.


Stack height refers to the amount of:

  • insole,
  • midsole and
  • outsole between your foot and the ground.

Heel drop refers to:

  • the difference between the forefoot and the rearfoot stack height.

Basic mechanics tells us that the higher off the ground you are the easier it is to roll an ankle.  While the range of motion in degrees may be the same, the distance the foot can travel is increased if you are higher off the ground.  This then increases the velocity of your foot when it is rolling that may go beyond your ability to stop a sprain.

For this reason, trail shoes tend to have a reduced stack height and heel drop as the uneven surface is a big risk factor for sprains.

2. FIT:  

If you have a shoe that is too large for your foot then there is an increased risk that your foot will be moving inside the shoe.  Even if the shoe is stable your foot may not be supported if the shoe is not grabbing your foot.  This is especially true through the middle of the shoe.  For the same reason, elastic laces or loose laces have an increased risk of ankle sprains.  Ideally when you are running your shoe should be firmer than what would be comfortable walking around.

3. WEAR – UPPER STIFFNESS:  IMG 0191 1 rotated

As you wear in your shoes they mould around your foot.  This improves the fit and grips the shoes to offer your feet.  The uppers respond to extra pressure from the lumps and bumps on your feet.  They also deform due to extra force that occurs through the running gait.  While this is positive when the shoes are new, if you wear them too long then it may become negative.  In time shoes will lose their stiffness and lose their ability to grab your foot firmly.  In very worn shoes the uppers may get holes or become detached from the midsole, again losing their ability to control a potential sprain.


IMG 0192 1 e1608021574963Perhaps the most common footwear factor increasing ankle sprain risk is asymmetrical wear of the outsole and midsole.  Excessive lateral heel wear can occur with a scuffing foot strike.  In some cases, people wear through the outsole and into the midsole.  On top of the visual wear pattern, there is often damage to the midsole from the extra impact forces that lead to an asymmetrical loss of resistance on the lateral border.  This wear pattern then creates lateral instability and a rolling out force every time your foot strikes the ground.  The threshold of what is required to cause a sprain is then significantly reduced.


Your foot structure and biomechanics should determine the best shoe to suit you.  In our shop, we tell people to let their feet decide which shoe to buy.  Many people have no idea what their feet are doing when they are running.  It is also hard to look at what your shoes are doing and know what your feet are doing inside the shoe.

That is why it is so important to bring in your old shoes when you need to replace them.  The wear patterns on your shoe outsole, insole, midsole and uppers give us evidence for the forces that are being generated when running.  (* Listen to Runtalk #1 & #2 about wear patterns)

We can then help you choose the best type of shoe to reduce your injury risk.  A good example of where people go wrong is thinking that they pronate because of the medial (inside) wear on the outsole.  In fact, the most common cause of this wear pattern is an in-toeing running technique that makes it almost impossible to pronate but significantly increases your risk of spraining an ankle.  You may then want to purchase an anti-pronation shoe but these shoes will again increase the risk of ankle sprains.  Having a run in the shoes before buying is also a critical factor in choosing the best shoe because running gait can be very different compared to walking or treadmill running. At intraining, we have a 25M runway to try out all the shoes!!


While this discussion was mainly regarding inversion ankle sprains or rolling an ankle outwards it can also apply to the less common medial sprains.  After you have had an ankle sprain you should be following a treatment protocol depending on the Grade of your sprain (See Doug’s article on ankle sprains).  Footwear may be an important part of your treatment for healing a sprain and protecting your ankle from a further sprain. This can be buying a new neutral shoe with long axis stability or modifying your shoes with a lateral wedge under the insole.

If you have had a recent sprain or have chronic ankle instability then it would be worth coming in to see a podiatrist at the intraining Running Centre.  We can analyse your old shoes and evaluate the effect they have on your ankle sprain risk.  Your footwear is an important factor as part of an appropriate rehabilitation program for ankle sprains.

CLICK HERE to listen to the most recent RUNTALK. 

For more information on ankle sprains and shoe wear patterns:

  1. READ Doug’s ankle sprain article
  2. LISTEN to Runtalk #1:  Shoe wear patterns tell a story
  3. LISTEN to Runtalk #2:   Why you get holes in your shoes and what to do

Steve Manning 1


Steve has worked since the early 1980s to create opportunities for runners of all abilities to pursue their running goals, to establish and maintain a healthy balance of sport, health and work in their lifestyle and to connect with other like-minded and supportive runners. He has done this by creating a community of runners, coaches, sporting podiatrists, physiotherapists and a retail team with a large focus on inclusion and collaboration. He loves runners and how running can change people’s lives. These are intraining Running Centre (Speciality running retail store), intraining Running Injury Clinic with a focus on podiatry and physiotherapy for runners), intraining Training Groups, intraining Running & Triathlon Club.

Steve is the owner of intraining Running Centre and began working in the store while still a student at school.  He graduated with Podiatry (Hons) in 2001 but while studying was instrumental in establishing the Queensland Sports Podiatry Group,  Steve has been on the board of Sports Medicine Australia Queensland branch since 2006.  He is an Associate Lecturer (Podiatry) at QUT in Sports Medicine.

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