Quick Answer: Pickleball shoes with a narrow toe box can lead to several common foot injuries. The confined space in a narrow toe box prevents the toes from spreading out naturally during play, which puts excessive pressure on the toes and can cause injuries such as jammed toes, ingrown toenails, blisters, corns, and calluses. A narrow toe box also fails to provide adequate stability, increasing the risk of ankle sprains and Achilles tendon injuries from the quick side-to-side movements in pickleball. Wearing proper pickleball shoes with a wide toe box allows the toes to spread out, improving stability and decreasing pressure to reduce the risk of many common foot injuries.
As an avid pickleball player with over 9 years of experience, I’ve come to learn that having the proper footwear is crucial for staying injury-free and playing your best game.
Many players, especially beginners, don’t realize that choosing pickleball shoes with a narrow toe box can actually lead to several common foot injuries.
In this article, I’ll share my expertise on why you should avoid narrow toe box shoes for pickleball and how to select the right footwear to keep you happy and healthy on the court.
Common Foot Injuries Caused by a Narrow Toe Box
The main problem with pickleball shoes that have a narrow toe box is that they don’t allow enough room for your toes to spread out naturally.
During play, your feet are constantly moving from side to side and front to back as you run to hit shots on both sides of your body.
When crammed into a narrow space, your toes are unable to move and flex as they normally would. This excessive pressure and friction leads to several painful foot conditions:
Jamming or stubbing your toes is one of the most frequent injuries in pickleball due to the quick start-stop motions and sharp changes in direction.
Wearing shoes with inadequate toe room greatly increases the risk of jamming your toes on the front or sides of the shoe during play.
This causes immediate, sharp pain and can lead to bruising, swelling, and even fractures if the impact is hard enough.
The pressure from a narrow toe box can cause your toenails to grow into the surrounding skin, leading to redness, swelling, and infection.
Ingrown toenails are not only extremely painful but can require medical treatment to fully resolve.
Excess friction on your toes rubs away at the skin, resulting in painful fluid-filled blisters. These often occur at the base of the big toe or on the pinky toe in narrow shoes.
Blisters make it difficult to run and jump during play. If they pop, they can become infected.
Corns and Calluses
Corns and calluses develop from repeated pressure and friction on the toes. They form as layers of hard, thick skin that can be sensitive and painful.
If left untreated, corns can penetrate deep into the skin and become infected. Calluses may crack and peel.
The angled position of the big toe in narrow shoes can gradually force the joint out of place over time. This forms a bony bump on the side of the foot known as a bunion.
Bunions alter your gait, make shoes painful to wear, and may require surgery to correct.
Lack of Stability Increases Injury Risk
Along with excessive toe pressure, pickleball shoes with a narrow toe box fail to provide adequate stability for the quick lateral movements required in pickleball.
The average pickleball rally has players moving from side to side up to 5 times more often compared to tennis!
Without the ability to spread your toes and balance properly, you are at a much higher risk of:
- Ankle sprains – Rolling your ankle from landing on the side of your foot or changing directions too quickly. This overstretches or tears the ligaments.
- Achilles tendon injuries – Repeated stress on the Achilles tendon from too much inward pronation causes inflammation and microtears.
- Plantar fasciitis – Overpronation and lack of arch support strains the plantar fascia tissue on the bottom of the foot, resulting in heel and arch pain.
- Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes When Picking Outdoor Pickleball Shoes
- Relieve Foot Pain on the Courts: The Best Outdoor Pickleball Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis, Pronation and More
- Can Pickleball Shoes Prevent Achilles Injuries?
Features of a Good Pickleball Shoe
To avoid foot injuries and play your best pickleball game, it’s essential to choose athletic shoes with an appropriate design for the sport. Here are the key features to look for:
- Wide toe box – A roomy toe box allows your toes to spread out naturally for balance and agility. It decreases friction and impact on your toes during play.
- Lightweight – Less weight makes it easier to move quickly around the court. Aim for 11 ounces or less.
- Breathable – Mesh panels or synthetic uppers allow airflow to keep your feet cool and dry.
- Cushioning – Shock-absorbing midsoles soften impact from jumps and sudden stops. Look for EVA or polyurethane foam.
- Ankle support – A higher collar, padded tongue, and laces help lock down your foot to prevent rolling your ankle.
- Traction – Herringbone tread or rubber outsoles grip the court to avoid slips during play.
- Durability – Abrasion-resistant uppers stand up to frequent use and lateral motions. Focus on high-quality construction.
Top Pickleball Shoe Picks for a Wide Toe Box
Based on my own experience and research of expert and buyer reviews, here are my top picks for the best pickleball shoes with a roomy toe box to keep your feet happy and injury-free:
1. New Balance Men’s 990v5
- Podiatrist-approved for foot health
- Premium leather upper with mesh panels
- Wide toe box and extended sizing options
- Dual-density collar for ankle stability
- Medicare-eligible option available
2. ASICS Men’s Gel-Dedicate 7
- FLEXION FIT® upper expands with your foot
- FLYTEFOAM® midsole absorbs shock
- AHAR® rubber outsole for durability
- Gel® cushioning system
- Low-profile stability for lateral motions
3. Prince Women’s T22
- Wishbone shank for midfoot support
- TPU welds for lightweight durability
- 4-foot fit system for customized feel
- ShockEraser® heel insert
- Toe and midfoot wrap for stability
4. K-Swiss Women’s Hypercourt Express
- DragGuard toe protection
- Midfoot support chassis
- Sockliner mold for anatomical fit
- Durable Aosta® 7.0 rubber outsole
- Generous toe box room
5. ASICS Gel-Resolution 8
- Rearfoot and forefoot GEL® cushioning
- AHAR® outsole for traction
- Flexion Fit® for flexible support
- PGuard toe protector
- Available in wide sizes
- How Should Pickleball Shoes Fit?
- Are Skechers Good for Pickleball?
- Top 10 Orthopedic Pickleball Shoes Designed for Achilles Inflammation Relief
My Personal Recommendations
As an experienced pickleball player and coach with a blog following of over 5,000 readers, I always advise my students and readers to prioritize finding shoes with a roomy toe box. Here are my top 3 picks:
- New Balance 990v5 – I’ve been wearing New Balance shoes for years and love the 990v5 for pickleball. It has the ideal toe box width and provides superior stability and cushioning on the court. The premium materials also make it very durable.
- ASICS Gel-Dedicate 7 – This shoe has a flexible upper that expands to allow natural toe splay. The FlyteFoam midsole and Gel cushioning system reduce shock for all-day play. I appreciate the lightweight feel and traction.
- Prince T22 – Prince designs some of the best tennis and pickleball shoes to support quick lateral motions. The T22 has excellent toe protection and stability features to prevent injury. I’d recommend it for beginners and intermediates.
No matter what shoe you choose, always be sure to try them on in-store and walk around before purchasing. Your toes should have plenty of wiggle room and feel comfortable from the start.
Investing in the proper footwear will allow you to play more matches with fewer foot problems. Protect those toes and enjoy the pickleball court!
Let me know in the comments if you have any other favorite shoe recommendations.