By: Jordan Madigan, Dr. Tyler Foster, and Max Goto
Over the past few decades, basketball culture has been rapidly developing in terms of training, attire, footwear, and rehabilitation, and is making a lasting impact on athletes of all ages.
Through Kobe Bryant’s low top shoes changing the face of the high-top NBA, Allen Iverson’s shooting sleeve to overcome an elbow injury, and James Harden’s shoulder Kinesio Tape – the NBA stars of the past 20+ years have shaped how younger generations suit up, train and play the game of basketball, but are these habits and equipment the best option for you? Here are the top 5 myths we commonly hear about basketball fashion and the evidence behind what options a best for you.
1.) High top shoes are better and safer than low tops
Basketball shoes are a billion-dollar industry, with many players having their own brands, designer shoe lines, and custom apparel. But with each new brand also comes a focus on increasing footwear technology, including inner sole comfort, grip traction, ankle support, and weight of materials, making shoes safer and more appealing. When you look beyond who is wearing what shoe and what's the best-looking trend among the NBA stars, we always fall back on this question: what's the best type of shoe for you? And our biggest debate is high tops vs. low tops.
It's generally thought that high top shoes have better ankle stability due to their position above the ankle joint, whilst low top shoes are supposed to be lighter and allow for more mobility. But with the multiple studies conducted on the biomechanical principles, or movements of our bodies, there has been no conclusive evidence to warrant choosing one style of shoe over another. These studies show that the style of shoe was not a major risk factor for an ankle injury. Instead, a large portion of ankle sprains in NBA, College, and High school basketballers occur due to stepping on another athlete's foot. But that’s not to say one shoe isn’t better than another. Comfort, support, and personal preference hold the biggest sway. An athlete must feel comfortable in their shoe, and confident in their movements, so it's important to try on multiple different styles, and find the fit that’s best for you rather than just wearing a shoe because your favorite NBA player is.
2.) I need to wear ankle braces or tape my ankle for every game
Steph Curry only played 26 games in 2011 due to repetitive ankle injuries, and after extensive ankle surgeries and rehabilitation, now plays and trains with bilateral ankle braces. But the ankle braces don’t do all the work. Curry didn’t go from having the worst ankles in the NBA to an elite, agile point guard overnight, and he continues to spend countless hours preparing his ankles pre, post, and between games.
Arguments can be made both for and against the use of ankle braces without the incidence of injury, but there is strong evidence that ankle braces will help with the external support of the ankle after a sprain.
When used on the ankle, athletic tape, which is designed to limit our range of motion while preventing the overuse of an injured or unstable joint, has shown to decrease movement of the ankle joint whilst taped. However, athletic tape will lose its effectiveness after 5-10 minutes of activity due to stretching and sweating. Therefore, any support that an athlete perceives from the ankle tape is through awareness of the tape being there and gives feedback for the athlete to know what direction that ankle is moving (proprioception).
3.) Kinesio tape will help my game
James Harden has made colored shoulder tape essential for many players uniforms. Kinesio tape (or KT Tape) is designed to recoil, lifting the skin from its two attaching ends, decreasing pressure on the structures below (muscles, fascia, blood vessels), and creating an environment for increased circulation and lymphatic drainage. The stretch component of the tape allows athletes to continue having most, if not all, of their range of motion.
Although research has yet to show the effectiveness of the tapes ability to prevent injuries, the use of KT tape on athletes with injuries can decrease inflammation and swelling and reduce the perception of pain. And, the stretch component in KT is thought to allow players to “feel” a motion better.
From a physical therapist's perspective, KT tape would not be recommended for use in non-injured athletes, although wearing it won't cause more harm, it will be a waste of money. For injured athletes, KT tape may be used as one tool of a rehabilitation program to get them back on the court, but it's important to note that this tape won’t “heal” anything or make your game better, it's only meant to help manage symptoms.
4.) Compression pants and shooting sleeves will make me faster and help me shoot better
Back in 2005, Jerry Stackhouse started the trend of wearing runner’s tights to combat a long-standing groin injury. The theory is that compression pants compress muscles, which fire more efficiently, especially if injured, therefore players with muscle strains benefit from the improved circulation and support. Although they can increase circulation and support, numerous studies have shown that compression shorts or leggings don't have any impact on a player’s running efficiency.
Shooting sleeves have also been marketed to increase blood flow, add compression, and decrease soreness. They are all about biofeedback for the arm and make the arm feel more stable overall. Although no study has found that these effects improve shooting efficiency and injury prevention, many basketball players report that using the sleeve provides a better “feel” on the shot.
A shooting sleeve cannot account for the hundreds or thousands of hours it takes in training to become an elite shooter, however, if it gives you an increase in confidence and makes your shot feel better, then go for it!
5.) I should be training just like the pros
Athletic Trainers biggest fear is that young athletes are mimicking exercises and workouts posted by NBA stars, such as Lebron James balancing on a physio-ball and lifting weights simultaneously.
NBA star’s programs have been designed and implemented by professional trainers, who have tested their athletes and built them up to the point you see them on social media. So even if these workouts look cool, they are not functional at your level, and will most likely lead to an injury.
It is important to note that appropriate, sport-specific resistance training can have a positive effect on reducing sport-specific injuries in young athletes, but these training exercises need to be appropriate for the athlete's level of play.
Although you may want to copy the stars in terms of suiting up, training, and playing the game, it might not be what's best for your body. If you're not sure of what your body needs, or if certain trends might help you, then reach out to your coach, athletic trainer, or local physical therapist, to get some advice and figure out what’s best for you.
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