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Our backs bear the brunt of the physical activity we take on, and by the end of the day, the lower back in particular can start to feel sore, stiff, and tired—or worse. 

Back pain can be traced to any number of sources including old injuries, stress and tension, cramping, overexertion, sitting too much, and more. 

But for many people, back pain is brought on by the stress we place on our bodies just in our posture. While it may not seem obvious right away, the shoes on our feet have a lot to do with how our backs feel.

If you’re dealing with lower back pain, your posture and your shoes may be to blame.

Our Feet and Our Posture

There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments in each foot. When you think about it, the foot is a marvel—one that modern engineering just can’t keep up with in how it creates and controls our every movement. 

Before we strapped on the latest heels or sneakers and took to the (man-made) streets, we went barefoot and walked on the soft earth. Our feet were constantly challenged by a variety of surfaces that kept them strong and functional. Since we can’t go around barefoot anymore, we pick stylish shoes to get us where we need to go. 

But the problem here is that when we squeeze our feet into ill-fitting shoes, or shoes with poor support, we impede the foot’s natural movement, which then impacts the way the entire body moves, contributing to poor posture and alignment, often leading to lower back pain. 

When our footwear doesn’t allow our feet to do what they need to do, the forces that our feet normally absorb are transferred up to our knees, hips, and our lower backs. 

How the Wrong Shoes Can Affect Your Lower Back

Some shoes may be very fashionable, but that doesn’t mean that they are ideal for the health of our spines or the good of our postures. 

High heels, for example, place excessive stress on the back and lower extremities, throwing the body’s natural posture and weight distribution out of alignment and impacting both gait and balance. The lower body is forced to lean forward to maintain a center of balance while the upper body leans back to serve as a counterweight. 

So while high heels may look great, the entire alignment of the body is thrown off, creating a stiff, unnatural posture that places too much stress on the lower back. A better option is a slight wedge with built-in arch support—likely one with a cork or rubber sole for extra shock absorption.

But this doesn’t mean that flat shoes are the way to go either. 

Flat shoes that don’t provide enough arch support—like ballet flats, flip flops, or sandals—can also cause lower back pain, especially if someone’s feet are prone to overpronating. These flat shoes can misalign the ankle and the knee which again throws off the center of gravity, aggravating the lower spine. They also place a lot of pressure on the balls and heels of the feet.

Finding the Right Shoes

So, which shoes are the right option to protect your feet and your lower back?

Good sneakers are one solid bet. Look for shoes that provide ankle and arch support, with wide toe boxes that bend upwards. You shouldn’t be able to twist the shoe if you try, and you should try to find a wide arch with great cushioning. Choose a shoe that fully supports your feet from ankle to toes. 

Any heel that is the same height or lower than the toe of the shoe will affect the way the leg and pelvis turn, which can affect your spine, resulting in lower back pain. This is why flat dress shoes aren’t a great option. Instead, it’s recommended that you look for a shoe with a “slight” heel; something sturdy that’s ideally between 1-2 inches in height to relieve pressure from your feet while protecting the spine. 

Care for Your Lower Back Pain Once and For All

If you have ongoing back pain, your shoes may help, but it’s also a good idea to strengthen the muscles of the lower back to support your spine—with the guidance and care of a qualified professional to prevent further injury or pain. 
At South Orange Rehabilitation & Wellness, our physical therapists can determine the root cause of your lower back pain and help you come up with the proper treatment plan to address it. Whether your back pain is brought on by the wrong shoes and poor posture or is from the lasting effects of an existing injury, we’re here for you. Schedule an appointment today to address your lower back pain.