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March Madness is upon us! The thrill of the tournament is a great reminder of how sports can be an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle. When playing basketball, like many other sports, avoiding foot and ankle injuries is critical.

Basketball fans and athletes at all levels should follow professional advice to maintain proper balance and minimize stress on the feet, making sure to wear proper shoes.

"Well-fitting sneakers with good arch support are a must," notes Jason Hymowitz, DPM, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon with Northern Jersey Orthopedic Center, part of Holy Name Physicians. "Proper footwear can prevent common basketball injuries, such as ankle and foot sprains; plantar fasciitis, a painful condition of the long, flat ligaments on the bottom of the feet; and even knee and back issues that can occur if a player's weight is not evenly distributed throughout the foot."

Dr. Hymowitz offers the following tips to help prevent foot and ankle injuries while shooting hoops:

  • Select basketball shoes that fit snugly, offer support, and are non-skid.
  • Measure each foot carefully to ensure correct sizing. Make sure there is a bit of space between the end of each big toe and the tip of the shoe while being worn.
  • When shoes are wearing out or if they have ripped, purchase new ones
  • An ankle stabilizing orthosis brace with lace-up straps is best for prevention and for therapy. However, ankle bracing should not be used long-term due to the ankle becoming used to having that extra support; research shows no significant evidence for continuing long-term bracing.

Dr. Hymowitz recommends removing the insoles that new sneakers contain and replacing them with special insoles specifically for basketball that feature a deep heel cup for stability. "The best insoles have firm arch support that limits inward rotation of the foot, improves alignment, and prevents injuries like plantar fasciitis and stress fractures,"” he says.

Athletes should also consider custom orthotic inserts, which are devices that support and pressure-balance the foot. This is especially important in high impact activities like basketball.

"Each orthotic is customized and designed for the specific individual," notes Dr. Hymowitz. "Biomechanical pressure points are mapped out to evenly distribute weight and to balance and align the muscles and tendons of the lower extremity to help improve performance and stamina." The benefits of orthotics don't stop at the foot; they can also help to prevent ankle, knee, hip, and lower back pain and injuries.

To avoid spending time on the bench, consult an orthopedics professional on how you can help your feet stay moving, stable, and safe.