Got Back Pain? Then NEVER Wear These Shoes

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Back Pain Shoes

Which of your shoes are killing your back?

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

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.

Flats

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.

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Toning Shoes

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.

Flip Flops

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.

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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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References

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.

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Comments

  1. Laura says

    The information about flip flops needs to get to parents and to pediatricians who will inform families discouraging them from being worn any where other than on the beach or at the pool. When I worked in elementary school so many children were wearing flip flops. I encouraged them that they were not good school shoes, especially on the playground – I didn’t allow them to jump rope or climb or play ball games or run if they wore them.

  2. Eileen says

    Actually going barefoot is the best. For running, it is best to run very short distances and build yourself up to it. Dr. Daniel Howell wrote a book about going barefoot and building yourself to barefoot running. Since I got rid of my shoes, my backpain is gone and only comes back when I have to wear shoes.

    • Margaret Fleming says

      Everyone has failed to mention that the hard wood floors we have today are really bad to walk on barefooted, the pain I have without having on support shoes is really bad after walking on them for less than an hour. Margaret

    • Elena Trujillo says

      I’m astonished by the info on toning shoes! ever since I started using them my back pain improved a lot; but you are right, my sciatic nerve has not, and I would be fired if I go to work barefooted. It has been long ago since I gave up flat shoes and high hills and replaced them with arched tennis-shoes. Then I tried the toning shoes which helped me very much in my hiking trips, as well as with my varicose veins. What kind of shoes should I use?

  3. Diane Stephenson says

    I have always said that about flip-flops. I have a couple of pairs of Sass shoes and love them. My dress shoes do not have really high heels and none have thin ones and I only wear them for short periods of time anyway – never walk far in them and am sitting a lot of the time while wearing them. Around home I only wear socks. I still have back pain, but I know it would be far worse if I wore any of those types of shoes. There are other reasons why I have the back pain including a congenital condition that cannot be treated. Shoes have always been an important issue with me as shoes are not generally made with my feet in mind and few fit me properly. It has been like this my whole life and it has always been difficult to find comfortable shoes. The Sass shoes have been the most comfortable I have ever owned. [And no, I don’t have stocks in the company. :-)]

  4. Candy says

    It would be very helpful to have a list of shoes or manufactures that make healthy shoes for pain
    free walking.

  5. Terrie says

    Actually, good lace-up shoes are great for reducing back pain. Some of the worse foot pain I have ever had was after too many long walks barefoot on the beach. Many people who used to go barefoot find that after they begin wearing good athletic shoes regularly, their back & leg pain decreases or goes away. Shoes do wear out with regular use, though and need to be replaced every 3-6 months or so. The inside support can break down even if the outsides still look great.

    I have plantar fasciitis and Sketchers Shape ups have been the best shoes I’ve had in the past year or so, because of the extra cushioning and the rocker causes less pressure on my heels. On my second pair now. They are a little too wobbly for walking through the woods because of uneven terrain. I have never believed the hype about the Shape Ups, and have noticed no real improvement in my legs. But my heels sure do appreciate them! I also bought a pair of Sketchers Tone Ups between these 2 pairs of Shape Ups, and they did not work for me. Lots of foot pain. I have high arches, and there just wasn’t enough support in them.

    I usually wear SAS shoes at work in our church kitchen, but have not found any shoes that do not hurt my feet after hours of standing on the tile floors. The SAS and Sketchers Shape Ups are way better than any others I’ve tried, though.

    • Valerie says

      When standing on tiled or concrete floors for long periods of time it does help to have a mat be it rubber or carpet on the floor. Concrete is very draining and causes the ache one experiences in the legs and feet.

  6. Terrie says

    Not every one is the same–perhaps barefoot is better for some people. I am very overweight (probably need to lose another 90 pounds), so barefoot is not best for me. I have heard so many people whose pain improved with good supportive shoes, not to mention that I am better equipped for a busy day and my feet are protected when I have good shoes on.

  7. Anna says

    I bought a pair of those toning shoes because I’m on my feet all day at work. After a couple of weeks, I had severe pain in the arches of both of my feet. The best footwear for my feet is New Balance trainers.

  8. Janice Smith says

    I broke my big toe and dislocated the second toe. I had a hard time walking as when I walked it would bend those toes. I bought a pair of shape-ups and my feet feel great as when I walk my toes don’t bend and hurt. They are the only shoes i wear as all the others still hurt when I walk in them. I didn’t buy them for losing weight or anything like that, just for comfort. I am 70 years old and I have 7 pairs of them just incase they quit making them. Everytime I find something I like they discontinue them but I have plenty of them now that I think they will last longer than me.

  9. Anne says

    I have been wearing Earth shoes with the Kalso heels, a negative heel, which brings more weight onto the heel and is supposed to align the spine better.
    I have been wearing them for several years and I think they help.

  10. Anon. says

    Interesting article…maybe. I wear flip flops all summer long & Shape Ups all winter. Interestingly the shoes that have been “prescribed” by the foot Dr, the chiropractor, and my general family Dr all made my back pain worse – way worse – than what I normally wear. I have also tried barefoot and that is even worse. I don’t think there is any ONE thing that will work for EVERYONE. We’re all built differently. We all walk/move differently. We all have different problems with our backs. NOTHING is going to work the same on every single person……

    Just saying.

  11. Angela says

    I am subscribed and have been following and liking your page on facebook for some time now. There are useful articles on what to do when experiencing a back pain, what shoes to wear or not to wear, what changes happen as a result of wearing a wrong type of shoes etc. I myself have been literally crippled for number of years and could never attain a solid advice that is working in my favor as far as the health issue was concerned. I have been practicing everything that was suggested in your articles over the years and it helped. I love the current article on what shoes to wear and that helps a lot.

    Thank you for all the help and advice you have given us.

  12. Joanne says

    I have to agree with Janice Smith. I bought a pair of curves shoes from Avon a while back. They are the equivalent of shape ups. I have since lost 56 pounds and I love them! They also toned my butt. I can’t tell with my legs yet as I’m still 40 pounds overweight. They are the greatest walking shoes ever made! That seems to be the biggest problem with this type of shoe. You wouldn’t buy golf shoes for work , so why would you buy WALKING shoes for standing around in (work). These people are evaluating the shoe as an all-purpose shoe and it’s not. It is strictly a WALKING SHOE. And yes, they are extremely comfortable to walk in. I would recommend them to anyone unless you have a balance problem, as they are rocker shoes. While they’re easy to walk in they can be difficult to stand in.

  13. bouncedancer says

    I have been completely sold on Birkenstocks for decades. After a long day of walking/standing and bouncing on my rebounder, they are the only brand that leave my feet as happy at the end of the day as in the morning. footprints.com guarantees them for up to 1/2 year last time I checked (no affiliation) .

  14. Karen D says

    I have broken my second toe several times, and get zapping pain whenever my shoe touches my toe. I also have severe plantar fasciitis. For the past 10 years, I have been wearing Earth Kalso heel shoes, and the difference is amazing. They are a bit costly, but well worth it. I would be on crutches without them!

  15. Tobie says

    I love flip flops too and have given them up. However, Birkenstock makes a type of flip flop or thong and I don’t know if those are good for you. Birkenstocks also make you grap with your toes or bunch them up so wouldn’t they be not so good for you?
    I find the most comfortable shoes are those I can use my orthotic in.

  16. Margaret Blea says

    I have worn Clark’s for many years, but lately have found that the Speery Top Sider Shoe is wonderful. Lots of padding, good support, and for the very first time my back pain has diminished. I do not wear the same pair of shoes more than three times, and then I switch. It seems to help.

  17. Anita says

    I have had a 2 level spinal fusion and am diabetic I suffer from sciatica and neuropathy I have found sketcher sandals to be very comfortable. I have yet to find a comfortable pair of sneakers but, my brother and his wife gifted me with a pair of born( a guess you call them) mules. These shoes are perfect I wore them until I wore the soles out. I don’t know what I will do in the cold seasons if I can’t get these shoes. Hope everyone has a pain free day!

  18. mary says

    I have severe scoliosis since age 12. Im now 62 some days the pain is unbearable. In the last 6 months

    ive had terrible sciatica also, which is the worst at night. I have been following your column and trying the stretching. I just bought a pair of sketchers flex appeal with memory foam. So far they feel great and im hoping they help, so I can get out and do things id like to do. Ive not noticed any readers that also have scoliosis. Any advice will be greately appreciated. I do go to a Chiropractor and get massage and
    have an inversion table.

    • keepyourpower says

      I have scoliosis in my neck and lower back. I see a Chiropractor 4 times a week. i have pain but it does not sound as bad as yours. I have not been able to find a decent pair of shoes for years! And I have no nice clothes or dresses, because I cannot find a decent pair of dress shoes!

  19. Terilyn says

    So glad to see the rocker shoes on the list. I went from being a full time student to working in a school. This included walking on concrete all day taking children to and from therapy in addition to therapy on a hardwood gym floor. With the combination of hard surfaces and the shoes, I suffered with plantar fasciitis for eight months. After seeking medical and therapy services, six weeks after changing shoes, the condition self corrected. Several colleagues and gym ‘friends’ have experienced a similar result with foot, knee and/or low back problems, that disappear after they have discontinued using their ‘rockers’.

  20. Lili says

    Hi everyone I work in healthcare and yes I am on my feet 8-9hrs a day. I have invested in Clarks with an insole technology. It balances out your body weight. Reduces hot air caused when walking throughout the day and by the time I get home my feet feels as if I have been walking on clouds all day.
    Excellent shoes and long lasting and might I add waterproof too.

  21. Ben says

    I have been wearing Loffers ever since grammer school and still do, I do not like tie up shoes, in the last 6 months I have bad Lower back pain and real bad sicadia pain, in left leg, I have had 2 lower back shots with in 30 days, nothing has helped, the doctor has told me I have lower back disk swelling and might need to have an operation. so I am going to see a Back doctor first of this week, anybody know anything any better?

    Thanks
    Ben

  22. Merry says

    Hi everyone, shoes. I have worked in a fast-paced grocery store for 7 years walking or standing on a concrete floor, sometimes lifting or carrying 20-50 lb. boxes. I use my 17 year old orthotic inserts (at least it gives me more arch support) and shoes are super important to my well-being and happiness. I rotate my 4-5 pairs of shoes daily. I have found KEEN makes a sturdy shoe with a nice wide toe bed. The KEEN Mesa ESD $130 looks like a great work shoe. DANSKO shoes $150 have been great for me, too. Running shoes with a cushion insert like SUPERFEET inserts are one of my rotation choices. I used the rocking shoes, actually MBT’s $150 and I LOVED them. Über-chushy and my feet felt great! They are pricey, so I tried the Sketcher’s model and I will be getting those again after reading this article. I just made sure that I stretched out the back leg and calves daily. I have also used “minimalist” running shoes and they were good too. It’s so true that we are all different and our preferences vary, but I appreciate this article because it was a starting point of what typically works for most people and why. Again, I rotate the shoes daily. Thanks for all the good ideas, and these were some of mine, hope it helps.

  23. Admin says

    Hi Ben,

    Usually, unless an emergency, it is better to try different options before considering back surgery. There may well be things you have not tried yet that may help you. We are sorry to hear you are dealing with so much pain. We feel it would be useful for you to read our back pain book and you can get a free copy using the link below.

    It has a lot of information to help you regarding the back, pain relief strategies and you can consider the various treatment options and action plans. Plus there are many other useful aspects for you to read. We do hope you find it helpful.

    “Click here for your Free Book”

    In addition please consider our Lose the back pain system. It helps by identifying any muscle imbalances and then gives a series of specific exercises to do to help bring the body back into balance and relieve pressure off nerves etc using “Muscle Balance Therapy” as well as other helpful strategies to help your self. You can read all about it in a lot of detail here

    “Click here for your Lose The Back Pain System”

    We do hope you find this useful to you.

    Thank you
    Admin (THBI)

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