The next thing, she says, is to make sure the footwear is appropriate. "And that means appropriate to the surface you're playing on. Lots of research has looked at injury related to the shoe-surface interface. For a sport involving jumping, running, cutting ... you want a fairly sturdy shoe," says Albohm. "You're not concerned with it being lightweight or having a sole appropriate for outdoor terrain. You want something very sturdy and secure." Obviously, that creates a problem for the athlete with many interests. "If you're saying, 'I can't buy six pairs of shoes,' a well-made cross-training shoe is an excellent choice."
"Shoes do make a tremendous difference," says Perry Julien, DPM, of the Atlanta Foot and Ankle Center. "When shoes are worn out, they lose some of their inherent stability. So replacing the shoes regularly is important. Also, getting the specific shoe for the specific sport [is key]. What often happens is people will go on vacation and take just one pair of shoes. But running shoes lack lateral stability." No lateral stability means that you run the risk of an ankle sprain should you hit the basketball or tennis court wearing them. According to Julien, high-tops don't necessarily offer higher protection, but they do provide a degree of proprioception that will allow the ankle to react to potential injury. Studies on high-tops, however, have been mixed.
"The bottom line is: The shoe construction does not significantly decrease the incidence of ankle sprains," says Albohm.
So what about a brace or taping? Albohm says there's a bottom line there, too. "If you're dealing with healthy ankle joints with no previous injuries -- and ones that have been properly strengthened -- then you don't need any preventative measures externally," she says. But for those with a history of ankle sprains -- especially ones that have kept them out for 2-3 weeks -- it's a different story. "Then you've compromised the ligaments in that joint and created some instability that will not return to normal," Albohm says. "For those individuals, external protection is recommended and highly suggested."