Could Your Shoes Be Causing Your Back Pain?

Your shoes can make or break your outfit, but they can do the same to your back health. Since back pain is so common — affecting over 16 million Americans — it’s easy to understand that the causes are also many and varied. 

At Coastal Ortho, we see how poor posture and sitting all day can wreck your back, how congenital conditions can deform the spine, and how aging can degrade the individual components of your spinal structure. We specialize in identifying the underlying cause of back pain and treating it, so you can live an active, pain-free life. 

However, we often find that the root cause of our patients' back problems lies in their shoe choice, so we want to take some time here to discuss the role of footwear in back pain. 

The link between shoes and back pain

Houses and buildings rely on a solid, level foundation to stand erect. If the foundation is crooked or weak, the structure above leans and eventually collapses.

The same is true of your body: It needs a strong and consistent foundation to keep it erect and well-aligned. If your foundation is faulty, your ankles become unstable, your knees compensate, your hips adjust to accommodate the misalignment, and eventually, your spine takes the brunt of the problems below. A poor foot foundation translates to excess pressure on your vertebrae, back muscles, ligaments, discs, and spinal joints. 

Several factors can compromise your foundation, such as low arches, flat feet, overpronation (when your weight lands on the inside of your foot), and supination (when your weight lands on the outside of your foot).

While a good pair of shoes can correct these problems, the wrong kind of shoes can cause or exacerbate them. Why? When you strap on your footwear, you essentially create a new foundation for your feet. Depending on your shoe choice, that foundation can be strong and supportive, or it can be flimsy and inadequate.

How to choose shoes that won’t hurt your back

If you choose your shoes based solely on color and how they go with your outfit, you’re likely putting your back in danger. While back-friendly shoes can certainly be fashionable, aesthetics shouldn’t be your first priority. Here’s what to look for in shoes next time you go shopping.

Check the heel height

When it comes to footwear, heels are often the prime suspects linked to back pain. High heels put your foot in an unnaturally inclined position, leading to a bent lumbar spine. 

This position puts tremendous pressure on your lower back, causing aches and pain. If you must wear high heels, look for styles with a wider, more supportive base, no higher than two or three inches. Wedges and block heels distribute your weight more evenly, reducing the impact on your back. 

In general, avoid stilettos because they not only cause low back pain, but also increase your risk of stress fractures and falling. 

Check the arch support

Your arch is the inner portion of your midfoot that (in most people) doesn’t touch the ground. If your arches are too low or too high, it can affect your gait, joints, and back. 

Our Coastal Ortho team can examine your feet and let you know what type of feet you have so you know what type of shoes are best for you. You may need extra arch support to accommodate flat feet, or shoes that stabilize your heel and prevent rolled ankles if you have high arches.

Check the materials

When considering the features of your next pair of shoes, don’t neglect the material composition, because it can cause or prevent back pain issues. 

Look for shoes with a firm, sturdy sole and a slight lift to support the arch. Shoes made with thinner material like canvas or flip flops — which offer minimal support and shock absorption — can strain your feet and legs, contributing to back pain. Not only can the wrong material cause a host of foot problems, but it can also create poor posture, leading to muscle fatigue and back pain.

Check for shock absorption

Each step you take creates a force that affects your body, from your feet to your back. When your feet hit the floor or the pavement, they take the first “hit” of shock and then transfer it up the kinetic chain to your spine. 

If your shoes can't absorb those shocks or provide stability, you're likely to suffer from back pain. Shoes with inadequate shock absorption, like high heels or unsupportive flats, increase the shock transfer up your spine, causing muscle strain and pain. Shoes with shock-absorbing soles, however, can minimize the effects of each pounding footstep on your back.

Treatment for shoe-induced back pain

Most shoe-related back pain goes away when you get a good, supportive pair of shoes. We may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to ease the discomfort as you get used to your new foundation. 

However, if you’ve been wearing unsupportive shoes for several years, you may have sustained damage to your feet, legs, and back. Whether you’re experiencing muscle spasms or anatomical changes, we can help.

We offer a full range of treatments, from physical therapy and massage to platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to help heal damaged tissues. 

The first step is determining which type of shoes are best for your feet and back. Call Coastal Ortho in Torrance or El Segundo, California, to schedule an appointment with our orthopedic specialists, or request an appointment online today.