Could your shoes be the reason you have back pain?
You’ve probably heard of the danger of high heels. But they’re far from the only culprits.
Many common shoe styles are terrible for your muscles and joints. They cause you to change how you walk, how you run, and even how you stand. All leading to muscle imbalances causing that “mystery” back pain.
Back pain from your shoes only gets worse with time. Women take an average of 5,210 steps each day, and men take 7,192 steps daily. Each step is a chance for you to do the right thing for your back — or a chance to reinforce back problems when you’re wearing the wrong shoes.
Stop unintentionally hurting your back! Take a second look at your feet and the shoes you love to wear. Put an end to the pills, pain, and threat of surgery by learning which shoes you should never wear if you have – or want to avoid – back pain.
High heels are guilty of causing back pain in both men and women. While women may recognize that sky-high stilettos are a problem, men may not realize that dress shoes and cowboy boots are the same as high heels as far as their muscles and joints are concerned.
The angle of any heel over an inch high causes you to walk with your back arched and your knees slightly bent. This forces your quadriceps to work overtime, shortens your calf muscles, and puts 200% more stress on your kneecaps as you move.
All that shifted muscle and joint strain rolls up into your spine. While you can try to compensate by stretching your muscles at the end of each day, it’s better to never, ever wear high heels. You may not win any fashion awards, but your back will thank you.
Eliminating high heels doesn’t mean you should run straight to flat shoes, either. Many of the flats on the market offer absolutely nothing in the way of support for your feet as you walk. According to lab tests, flats cause 25% more impact pressure on your foot with every step than high heels do!
Impact pressure builds over time, turning into a hammer driving up your leg thousands of times a day. Your hips and lower back take the brunt of it, leaving you with constant back pain from your unsupportive flat shoes.
The lack of padding and arch support in flats also causes the ligaments and tendons in your feet to overstretch. This can cause painful fallen arches and contribute to plantar fasciitis. And the more your feet hurt, the less you’ll exercise, starting a vicious cycle of poor health that could keep you in pain for life.
As a way to overcompensate for not exercising enough, millions of people are trying out shaping or toning shoes. Bad move.
Toning shoes are terrible for back pain sufferers. The hype around toning shoes – also called “rockers” due to their curved bottoms – is that they help you burn extra fat throughout the day to improve the look of your legs. Or so say a number of shoe company sponsored studies, but “depending on how they conduct the study, they can prove anything they want to prove,” says Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer at the American Council on Exercise.
The shoes “work” by adding deliberate instability to your gait, causing your muscles to work overtime. Think about that for a minute. You will pay $100 – $250 for a pair of shoes that make you less steady on your feet than normal and put more stress on your muscles and joints.
Even worse? Toning shoes don’t actually tone your legs or help you lose weight, according to independent clinical trials conducted at the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. In heart rate tests, calorie burning tests, and exertion tests, toning and rocker shoes were statistically identical to regular running shoes.
Instead of weight loss or toned muscles, researchers found that you are more likely to experience sore muscles and aching joints after wearing expensive toning shoes. The thick soles of the shoes also prevent your foot from flexing naturally as you walk, flattening your arch and making your body absorb more of the impact from each step. This leads to pain in your back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
Rocker and toning shoes are particularly hard on weak ankles and knees. Since your foot can’t flex naturally and your gait is unstable, these joints have to compensate to keep you upright. This boosts your risk of joint injury and contributes to the muscle imbalances responsible for long-term back pain.
The last shoe to avoid like the plague is the flip flop. These casual favorites may seem breezy and comfortable, but flip flops sabotage your spine with every step.
It all comes down to your toes. To keep flip flops from falling off as you walk, you have to bunch up your toes. This compromises your ability to use the front of your foot to move forward and your hips will overcompensate to keep you moving. The result is lower body fatigue, muscle imbalances along the back of your leg, and an aching, tender lower back.
Thin, cheap flip flops do the most damage. There’s no cushion for your soles and no support in your toes. You may have a pair in every color of the rainbow, but you are 2.5 times less stable in flip flops than sneakers. You also take smaller steps than normal in flip flops and experience more impact pressure as you walk, adding stress to your spine and making you more likely to skip walking in favor of sitting in a car.
Avoid Back Pain With Supportive, Flexible Shoes
High heels, flats, toning shoes, and flip flops are all shoes to avoid if you have back pain. Instead, you should invest in supportive, flexible shoes that cushion your feet as you walk. While sneakers and running shoes are a smart choice, any well-designed and practical piece of footwear will help fight back pain.
This doesn’t mean you have to shop in the orthopedic section or wear clunky “grandma shoes” all the time. There are millions of affordable, attractive pairs of shoes that also give your feet what they need to keep your spine healthy and your back happy. Look for:
- Shoes with a low heel (not more than an inch of elevation for men or women)
- Shoes with a contoured insole to support your arch
- Shoes that flex with your foot without rolling up in flimsy balls or feeling stiff as boards
- Shoes with at least half an inch of wiggle room in the toes to allow for proper flexing and gripping as you walk
- Shoes that feel comfortable in the store without pinching or binding your foot — and please don’t count on stretch or “breaking in” your shoes when buying footwear!
- Shoes that carry a seal of acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association
By keeping these tips in mind as you shop for your next pair of shoes, you can build a closet full of comfortable shoes that will keep your back happy. It may seem like a small thing, but getting the worst shoes for back pain out of your life could be just what you need to do now to help lose your back pain for good.
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Mackenzie, Natalie. Are Your Shoes Making You Fat? FoxNews.com. 2012 March 2.
Porcari, J, et al. Will Toning Shoes Really Give You A Better Body? American Council on Exercise. Retrieved 2012 March 8.
Tudor-Locke, C et. al. How Many Steps/Day Are Enough?: Preliminary Pedometer Indices for Public Health. Sports Medicine. 34(1):1-8, 2004.