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Which Shoes Help Exercise, Fall Prevention, and Ankles?

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We are in the cold, damp Tennessee mountains for the rest of the week, teaching at a medical school program of wilderness medicine. It should be warmer than home in the Northeast US where it's snowing, and the Schuylkill River, and water bottle on my bicycle are frozen. I won't have Internet or phone access at the wilderness camp. Unflagging Healthline staffer Carrie Locke is posting the blogs for me all week. Thank you Carrie, once again.

For wilderness treks and hikes, and everyday walking, you need to walk on uneven surfaces without stumbling or spraining your ankles. Expensive shoes, inserts, arch supports, braces, ankle supports, and orthotics are sold on the belief that they are needed to hold your foot and ankle in position. However, this is an expensive fallacy.

You are the one who can hold your ankles in straight position or let them sag into foot pronation. You don't need, or even want, shoes that hold your ankles straight for you. Without use, your ankle muscles weaken. With shoe support, your ankle doesn't have to work to hold itself. It gets weaker. It forgets how. It is the opposite of what is needed.

It is not high top shoes or ace bandages or taping or orthotics that prevent falls and ankle sprains, or prevent ankles from sagging inward or "pronation." The most important thing you can do for healthy ankles and preventing sprains is to use your own leg muscles, and simply hold your ankles without sagging, the same as any other posture. Think of a beginning skater. At first, they let their ankles bend and sag inward. They do not know how to hold their legs using their own muscles. Eventually, they learn to hold straight, healthful positioning.

Letting your ankles sag inward can press the joints of your arches, ankles, knees, even hips. In most instances, supportive shoes and inserts are no more needed than putting your mouth in a sling to keep it from falling open when you walk around. Thinking that you need supportive shoes to brace uninjured ankles for hiking and walking is a common myth that perpetuates weak, unstable ankles. Many people who use arch supports never learn how to use their own muscles, and are told to never go barefoot. This is an unfortunate and unnecessary restriction to their health.

The post Healthy Knees shows what inward-sagging knee positioning looks like and how to fix it. It is easy to do and makes an immediate and important improvement to your joint health.

Often in wilderness settings, I see hikers in expensive boots. The native mountain guides and pack-bearers are wearing flip-flops. This is not just a salary inequality. It is not that the guides don't know ankle health. They know something crucial - the health of your ankles comes from your own muscles. You will save much money on footwear and products that prevent your foot and ankle muscles from working, and you will get free, built-in leg and foot exercise with every step.

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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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