Can Shoes Cause Ankle Pain? (Asked By Experts)

Yes, shoes can cause ankle pain or worsen ankle injuries if they are not properly fitted, have poor arch support, and do not have proper cushioning and padding in the heel collar.

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries. Ankle pain could be due to a serious injury or underlying disease. They occur when you twist your ankle in a way that causes the ligaments to tear.  If you are suffering from ankle pain that doesn’t seem to be improving with time, it could be due to a problem in your shoes.

Ankle sprains can also be caused by overuse or repetitive stress. Repetitive stress is when your ankle is forced to work hard in a specific position for an extended period of time.

Here, our team of experts at Wearduke expresses their views about the different types of shoes that could cause ankle pain or injuries. After reading this complete guide, if you’re worried about which shoes you should wear for ankle pain and their support, our team has already crafted a guide on the best ankle support shoes.

What Exactly Is the Ankle Joint?

The ankle joint is the point where your leg and foot meet at the end of your lower leg. Ankle joint is made up of two bones, the tibia and the fibula, which meet at the front and sides of the ankle joint, and the talus bone, which forms the back part of the joint. The joint has a hinge-like stable feature that allows your foot to rotate quite easily in all directions. 

ankle joint anatomy

The ankle joint also includes two small muscles that help the foot move: the flexor hallucis longus and the flexor digitorum longus. The function of these muscles is the flexion of the foot and toes.

When a foot is in motion, the bones move in different ways. The bones of the foot are attached to one another through a network of ligaments and tendons. Your ankle joint is protected by a complex network of ligaments, which are strong bands of tissue that connect the bones together. The tendons are thick cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.

Ligaments allow your bones to move smoothly, without pain. In this way, the ankle joint allows for movement in all directions but mainly forward and backward.

How Are Shoes Causing Ankle Pain?

Shoes characteristics such as heel height, toe box width, sole hardness
and thickness have all been identified as elements that contribute to ankle and foot pain.

The ankle is very flexible and can move in almost every direction, allowing for quick movements and agility. However, it is prone to injury because of the way it is constructed. When the ankle is injured, the muscles and ligaments that support it become strained and inflamed.

Let’s discuss all the factors in shoes that can cause ankle pain.

Shoes Are Ill-Fitted

It is true that ill-fitted shoes cause ankle pain. Ill-fitted shoes are those shoes that are too tight, too high and too narrow. Ill-fitted shoes can cause ankle pain by forcing the foot into an unnatural position.  If you put pressure on the foot, the ankle can become weak and sore. When your feet are forced into an unnatural position, the ankle can become inflamed and painful.

If your shoes are ill-fitted, they may cause the foot to be in an abnormal position. The result of this can be the foot pronating or supinating. Pronation is when the foot rolls inward towards the midline of the body while supination is when the foot rolls outward away from the midline.

One study reported the presence of ankle pain in women due to incorrectly-fitted footwear. Further studies were also conducted to determine whether ill-fitted footwear cause ankle pain or not. In the studies carried out by Ran Schwarzkopf and S.Akhtar,  between 35% and 56% of individuals were wearing footwear of incorrect length. A study by S.Akhtar investigated width and found that 64% of people were wearing footwear that was narrower than their feet.

So, it is quite important to select the right width of your shoes. It is advisable to wear shoes that are wide enough so that the toes can spread out without feeling cramped. The toe box of the shoes should not be too tight to squeeze your feet or too wide to cause instability in your walking stride.

You can check my guide on the difference between shoe widths for a better understanding. If you’re wearing shoes for a specific purpose like weightlifting or badminton, you can check my guides on the fit of weightlifting shoes and the fit of the badminton shoes. In these guides, I have explained the exact criteria for determining the right sizing of badminton shoes and lifting shoes.

Also, make sure that your heels are not slipping inside the shoes. If your favorite shoe length is a bit longer and is hitting your heels, you can apply some DIY techniques to stop shoes from rubbing against the ankle.

Moreover, I also found this PDF by quite helpful in testing the shoes for the comfort of your feet and for preventing ankle pain.

Poor Arch Support of the Shoes

Poor arch support is one of the main causes of ankle pain. Many of us walk around with flat feet, which can cause ankle pain and even ankle injuries.

The main reason for this is that our feet are not designed to support our weight. When we stand, our knees are bent and our feet are placed under our body weight.

This puts stress on the muscles and ligaments of our ankles. The poor arch support of the shoes causes the feet to roll inward. This results in strain on the muscles and ligaments of the ankles. 

In order to avoid ankle pain, you should always make sure that your shoes provide adequate support and stability. In addition, you can use orthotic insoles to correct any abnormal alignment of the joints.

If you do not have an idea about the foot arch, it is basically a curved area in the medial region of the foot that has the role of absorbing the impact and balancing the body posture by preventing pronation.

difference between neutral arch foot and flat foot

The surface of the foot arch is formed by the muscles and soft tissues on the plantar surface of the foot. The forces generated by these muscles and the plantar fascia will produce plantarflexion moments at all the joints of the medial arch.

In this way, they are able to directly influence the pronated (inward movement of the ankle) or supinated positions of the foot (outward movement of the ankle).

So, in case of flat feet, you should avoid wearing the following footwear to prevent ankle pain:

  • Flats&Ballets
  • Heels
  • Flat-soled sneakers

Another mistake people do is that they buy stability shoes even if their foot has a proper arch. Stability shoes have a medial post or more midsole material on the medial side like ASICS Gel Kayano. 

Shoes with a medial post can cause more stress on the lateral part of the foot with neutral arch

As you can see in the above image, the medial post in the shoes tends to tilt the heel inward to avoid pronation. Since in a neutral arch foot, there isn’t any issue of pronation, the medial post will shift your body weight even more to the lateral side of the foot, causing ankle sprains and increased stress on Achilles tendons.

Bonus Read: Best work shoes for high arches

Less Cushioning in Midsole of Shoes

When you walk, your ankle is exposed to a lot of stress. You must use the muscles in your legs to push off with each step while supporting your body weight on your feet. This puts a lot of pressure on the bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments in your ankle.

If you suffer from chronic ankle pain, it is likely that your shoes are not providing the level of support and cushioning you need. Your feet need to be stable and supported when walking, running, or jumping, so the amount of cushioning provided by the shoe is very important. This research shows that increased cushioning in the shoes helps people susceptible to high loads at the ankle,

The midsole of shoes is usually made of polyurethane (PU) or EVA (Ethyl Vinyl Acetate) material. EVA is soft and pretty lightweight compared to the PU material. PU material has a higher compression resistance, which is good for work including long hours of standing. If you are an everyday walker or runner, shoes with EVA midsole are a good option for you to avoid ankle pain.

FAQs About Shoes Causing Ankle Pain

Can Stability Shoes Cause Ankle Pain?

Stability shoes can only cause ankle pain if your feet have a neutral arch and they do not pronate.

Can Shoe Inserts Cause Ankle Pain?

Orthotics or shoe inserts are intended to offer stability and arch. But in some cases, they make your feet work harder and can cause ankle pain. So, when you are buying orthotics, you should first try them and make sure they are perfectly molded to your foot.

Can Old Running Shoes Cause Ankle Pain?

Old or worn-out shoes are more likely to cause ankle pain. Shoes lose their shock-absorbing and arch support characteristics as they wear out with time. Moreover, the rigid heel collar of shoes becomes loose with time, due to which your feet may slip inside the shoes. It can also cause ankle injuries.

Can Flat Shoes Cause Ankle Pain?

The main reason why flat shoes cause ankle pain is that they cause the foot to turn inward, resulting in poor posture and muscle strain. If you have flat feet, you should wear good-quality supportive shoes with a heel counter and an orthotic insole.

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