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Foot Orthotics for Basketball

How to improve your basketball free throw percentage

At PridePlus Health, us podiatrists love staying in touch with all the latest research to guide our treatment plans and ensure everything we do is evidence-based. Recently, an interesting article surfaced in my google scholar notifications. Having played basketball since I was just 8 years old, and being an all-round avid sports fan, this particular article immediately caught my eye. Foot orthotics for basketball, two of my passions merging in one article!

“Effects of foot orthoses on dynamic balance and basketball free-throw accuracy before and after physical fatigue.”

We’re all still drowning our final sorrows at the loss of the the 2019 AFL season, and with the trade period now over, footy is well and truly behind us. Don’t worry, I’m also still in denial. But, with Melbourne being the sporting capital of the world, there’s always something in sports to distract us and with the beginning of the NBL season (are you United, or Phoenix? Controversial these days), not to mention the NBA tipping off this week, the time is fitting for this article to emerge.

I’ll be honest, at first glance of the title, I was certainly skeptical. As podiatrists, we are well versed in how beneficial foot orthoses (orthotics) can be in both the recovery and prevention of injury for athletes participating in all sports. But can foot orthotics for basketball really have an effect on our free-throwing capabilities? Could these trusty insoles have me shooting at the efficiency of Steph Curry at 15 feet from the basket?

As mentioned earlier, when analysing research to guide our treatment, us podiatrists are encouraged to read multiple articles, draw numerous conclusions and link all of these conclusions together to develop an evidence-based treatment plan. The article by Lam et. al., (2019) aims to investigate a missing link between research articles. If some studies have found that dynamic balance and stability have an effect on free-throw performance, and other studies have found that orthoses impact dynamic balance and stability, does this mean that orthoses can enhance our free-throw accuracy? 

In short, the answer is maybe.

I know, as a society we love a ‘yes/no’ response, but unfortunately that’s just not the way the cookie crumbles! The participants in this study were each fitted with a medial-arch supportive (MAS) foot orthotic, and a flat control (FC) foot orthotic. They were then asked to attempt 20 free-throw shots with each device, do some stuff to make them tired (by ‘stuff’ I mean carefully calculated activities to achieve the exact same levels of fatigue – 85% max heart rate – between multiple individuals with varying fitness levels…but we don’t reeeally need to go into that much detail, do we?), then take another 20 foul shots with each device in their shoes. The order in which the insoles were used (MAS first, or FC first) was randomised across the participants. 

To gauge the effects of the orthoses on dynamic stability/balance during free-throwing, the researchers were observing the amount of ‘sway’ from the participants’ centre of gravity, be it forward/backward (anterior/posterior) or side-to-side (medial/lateral). This data was collected from reflective markers placed on the players’ heel, big toe and 5th metatarsal. The study found that overall, there was less ‘sway’ when participants wore the MAS orthoses during free-throwing than when they wore the FC device. Factoring in fatigue, when the MAS devices were in-shoe, participants’ sway was relatively similar pre and post-fatigue. However, there was a significantly higher amount of sway post-fatigue than pre-fatigue when participants were wearing the FC orthoses. This shows that MAS devices reduce the impact that fatigue has on stability during free-throwing and FC devices do not.

While enhancement in dynamic stability as a result of foot orthotic for basketball usage has been observed in this study, an overall improvement in free-throw accuracy has not been substantiated. This could be due to the impact that upper-body technique has on free-throw efficiency, therefore nullifying the previously noted stability benefits of the foot orthotic for basketball.  

To be good clinicians, we have to recognise that all clinical trials have their limitations. I could list dozens in this case. How accurate were these players to start with? Are they all using the same upper-body free-throw technique? Are they used to wearing foot orthoses? How much experience do they have shooting free-throws in general? But unfortunately, no study can be entirely perfect!

So, do foot orthotics for basketball turn us into Steph Curry? Well… that’s probably a no. But they can certainly have an impact on our free-throw efficiency by providing us with a more stable and balanced shooting technique. Let’s stop grieving the 2019 AFL season and look up towards an awesome few months of summer sport!

Go Melbourne United and go Miami Heat!!  

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W.-K. Lam, W. C. C. Lee, S. O. Ng et al., (2019). “Effects of foot orthoses on dynamic balance and basketball free-throw accuracy before and after physical fatigue”, Journal of Biomechanics