shoes and back pain

The truth about how shoes affect your back.

There are all kinds of people who take different stands on what the “best shoe is for back pain”. You have the all-natural guys who say the closer to earth your skin is while you walk and run the better. Then there are those who claim that high dollar, supportive shoes are best for your back. What drives me crazy is most of these people follow fads or reviews on websites. You have one guy who goes out and buys a pair of Vibrams after seeing someone on the treadmill wearing them. The other guy heard from his doctor (who happens to be a marathon runner) the Brooks Adrenaline GTS’s are the beez kneez for comfort and low back pain.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble but odds are the information you’re getting from your buddy, friend, parent or doctor is wrong. There is more to a pair of shoes than asking someone else their opinion. You can go on Amazon and see tons of reviews on different shoes but you can be in a lot of pain if that’s all you go off of when it comes time to make the purchase. As a matter of fact, I did a Google search “Shoes for back pain” (seemed like a pretty average search phrase) this was the first thing that popped up!! So, sit back and kick your shoes off. This isn’t going to be your typical shoe review! Some of the links below are affiliate links. I only suggest products that I personally have used or are currently using myself.

shoes and back pain
THESE SHOES ARE NOT FOR BACK PAIN. I give you full permission to torch any pair that you see

So, back to that google image…

To say these do ANYTHING for the person wearing them is garbage advice. For the general population, these are far from anything anyone should be wearing. Which is why I am coming to you with this post.

What I want to do today is give you a guideline to follow when it comes to finding the best shoe for you and your lower back. I learned a hard lesson buying shoes that talked a big game but never delivered. I have spent everywhere from $40-$120 on a pair of shoes and you would be surprised which ones bring the most relief.

How Shoes Affect Back Pain

We have to start looking at our feet as the starting point in the kinetic chain that is our body. It took me a few years to realize their importance but once I did;

1) I stopped wasting money.

2) I finally felt like I had control over my pain management.

3) I was able to stop guessing the cause of my lower back flare ups. 

Your shoes play a big role in keeping the rest of your body aligned properly. The problem that most people have is they rely on their shoes to correct whatever issue they have with their feet.

For example, I have really flat feet, like duck flat. If I’m not careful and don’t take the time to practice awareness in how I walk and stand, it doesn’t take long being in the wrong shoes for my back pain to flare up. On top of that, my now degenerative L5-S1 disc is sensitive to harsh angles my shoes put me in. Combine flat feet and a degenerative disc and believe me, it’s not long before I have to sit down or start popping Tylenol.

In my experience and research, I have narrowed it down to 2 main reasons why your shoes could be causing you back pain.

shoes and back pain

The Angle:

A lot of people don’t make this connection with the shoes they wear. It’s not just the ladies wearing high heels who need to watch out. The fellas need to pay more attention as well. I personally have experienced pain wearing anything that has a heel. Including running shoes. Yeah, it’s crazy to think that wearing running shoes would do that but if you think about it makes total sense. When it comes to dress shoes and a lot of nicer casual shoes, they typically have a pretty gnarly heel. This angle can throw off the rest of your body especially for me when it comes to having an issue with over extension (duck butt). The added height to my heel brings my center of gravity forward, forcing me into a more extended position as my pelvis tilts forward to try and correct the offset.

For me, having a ruptured and now degenerative disc, the slight tilt forward is an added stress on that joint which causes inflammation over a short period of time. This same way of thinking can translate over to the running shoes. Running shoes worn for casual occasions tend to put the wearer in a similar position as the dress shoes, simply because all the cushion and support is in the heel. I recently purchased a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS which are great running shoes but not good for just standing around in. I purchased them strictly for comfort while i’m on my feet, since all shoes that are over $100 are guaranteed to give you gobs of comfort (enter sarcasm). The only time I really do get the benefit of wearing my Brooks is when I do A LOT of walking or I run. Considering I’m not the running type that’s typically not very often.

Your story may be completely different. Some people are completely sold out for their Brooks (enter favorite running shoe brand) but those people are typically runners. They are buying these shoes to give them the same support that I am looking for but the major difference between us is they are actually using them for running where I am wearing them for everyday walking and standing (9+ hours a day). There is a difference

shoes and back pain

The Support

As Americans, we rely way too much on other people or things doing the dirty work for us. We don’t want to change our eating habits so we get lipo suction or our stomachs stapled. When it comes to our feet we don’t have the time or even want to think about having to correct our foot position or standing posture. Instead, we are good at seeing specialists who put us in “special shoes” to do it for us. Now, don’t get me wrong I understand there are some real situations where we can’t repair our feet on our own, but for the average adult a little awareness will go a long way.

I use my experience wearing Vibram Toe Shoes for over a year straight when I explain the importance of learning proper foot position or needing support. Even with my flat feet, I was a die-hard Vibram wearer. The reason why I was able to do it even with the structural issues I had were because I was constantly mindful of how I was standing and where my weight distribution was at. I was so passionate about those shoes and people actually learning how to use them properly I made a video about it: Be kind this is me 4 years ago as a full-time trainer 🙂


After wearing these shoes for a while I started to notice more and more people wearing them (they had just hit the market). Unfortunately, most of these people didn’t pay any mind to the way they were running or walking. They just liked the idea or maybe to them they were comfortable. The problem is, just because you’re taking yourself out of “over supportive” shoes like Brooks, it doesn’t mean you need to jump right into a minimal style shoe to fix your problem. If anything, the minimal style shoe requires more attention to detail and will-power to constantly be thinking about your foot position until it becomes second nature to you. Then and only then will you ever see the true benefit of the minimalist style shoe. So, for the average person looking to get out of the “over supportive” shoe I say do it only if you’re willing to put in the effort to correct what’s wrong with your mechanics.

 

So, what shoes are best for back pain?

In closing, I want to leave you with a little advice. Do not buy shoes based off of their reviews. You need to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What current issues do I have now?
  2. What do I do all day, do I stand and teach? Do I run around and play with kids or young adults or do I stand at a computer station?
  3. Do I over pronate (flat feet)?
  4. Do I over supinate (tall arch)?
  5. Do I walk with my feet pointed in or out?
  6. How do I stand?
  7. Are my toes facing forward or pointing in or out?

SFig2

These questions play a big role in the shoes you need to spend more time experimenting with. Sometimes the shoes that give the most cushion and support are not always the best for you when it comes to back pain. If you’re looking for a new pair of running shoes to RUN in then yes, you want to pay close attention to what the reviews are saying. If you’re looking for a pair of shoes that will help with back pain then you may have to try a few out before you nail it down but keep in mind, the closer you can get to proper foot and body position the better. Just be sure to buy the shoes that will help fix the problem not create more for you.

If you need “support” than learn how you can repair your issues for yourself and wear shoes that will help you continue to work on those repairs as you wear them. Don’t get the high end shoes and rely on them to do the work.

At the same time don’t think that minimal style shoes will help you fix your issues. They will highlight your issues and create problems if your not being proactive in fixing them. 

I know for me, I have developed pretty good body awareness and know what proper standing and walking should look like so believe it or not I can get a lot of relief from wearing a $40 pair of Classic Vans compared to my $120 Brooks. Not that the Brooks aren’t comfortable but when it comes to my lower back inflammation, you will probably see me wearing the Vans only because I know the Vans won’t put my body into a position that I personally can’t correct myself.

In my continued pursuit of the perfect shoes, there are 3 things that I look at.

  1. Zero Drop: This basically means from the heel to the toe there is NO angle. It’s a flat surface.
  2. Wide Toe Box: This is a new concept for me but once you go wide toe box you will never go back to the regular shoes again. The wide toe box allows room for your toes to spread while you walk and run. Instead of shoes like Brooks where the toe box is narrow and keeps your toes bunched together. The wide toe box is the opposite. Best thing to happen to me since Ramen Noodle.
  3. Light cushion: I don’t want too much material between me and the ground. Where Vibram toe shoes are the extreme, I want a bit more cushion than those.

shoes and back pain

So far, the only company that I have found to really harness all of these qualities that I feel everyone should look for is Altra Running Shoes. (this is their main site where you can see what models would be best for you. You can buy them other places and save a few bucks if your into that sort of thing 😉 ). Even though I am not a runner, I am active. I am standing for hours a day, walking and training. I need a shoe that is versatile to be able to handle whatever I throw at it but most importantly not causing irritation in my lower back.

The exact shoe that I personally wear on a daily bases are these bad boys here. Altra Provisions 2. I 100% stand behind this model and style simply because I am a consumer just like you. I am looking forward to beating these things up so that I can try a new pair out! I have my eyes on the trail shoes next. Either the Lone Peaks or Superior Line.

You do not have to be “active” to wear these shoes. If you have a daily walking shoe or basic sneaker then these shoes can replace those. The goal is to chip away at what could be causing irritation in your lower back and there is no doubt in my mind that your shoes will only help or hurt you in the long run so choose wisely!

So how about you?

What shoes do you typically wear all day and how do they make you feel? Let me know in the comment section below!

TTYS,

William

Reminder: Some of the links above are affiliate links to products that I personally use or have used myself.


 

 

 

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