Got a bad back? Our Glenn Dale physical therapists explain how your footwear choices might be playing a part

glenn dale physical therapists footwear bad back

September 30, 2019

Back pain is just one of those issues that nearly everyone seems to have experience with.  It’s estimated that 31 million Americans are affected by back pain right now, and about 80% of the population will encounter it at some point in their lifetime.  Back pain can also be rather tricky.  Pain usually develops due to a combination of many factors, and it’s often difficult to pinpoint the main culprit responsible.  One of these factors might surprise you, as it probably doesn’t even cross your mind when trying to figure out what’s leading to pain: your footwear.  Yes, what you put on your feet can have a much more significant effect on your back than you might think, and our Glenn Dale physical therapists are here to explain how to choose the right shoes in order to alleviate your pain.

If you’re one of the countless individuals who’s suffering from back pain right now, you might look in just about every direction for the reason why, but have you tried looking down?  The feet are the foundation of the body, and the way in which they strike the ground means a great deal for how other parts of the body move and function.  The feet are also directly connected to the back by what’s called the kinetic chain, which is a concept used to describe how different body parts interact with one another.  The lower kinetic chain includes the feet, knees, legs, hips, and spine.  Each of these parts moves on its own, but also affects the way in which the other parts move and function through this “chain.”

So by this property, what you put on your feet will impact how you move, and certain types of footwear can cause issues further up the chain and into your back.  Below are a few footwear choices that are not best for your back:

  • High heels: although they are certainly stylish, high heels are associated with all types of painful conditions in the foot and elsewhere in the body; wearing heels that are more than just 1 inch in height can throw off your posture and the alignment of your spine, and over time, this may result in back pain; the higher the heel, the worse it is for your back
  • Flats: also known as ballet shoes, these types of shoes are usually made of a very thin material and do not offer enough support for the arches of your feet; wearing these types of shoes regularly will cause your foot will roll inwards when you walk, which can transfer abnormal forces up to the knee, hip, and lower back
  • Flip flops: many—but not all—types of flip flops are also thin and fail to provide sufficient arch support, which can cause the same issues created by flats; tightening your toes to keep your flip flops secured can also be problematic
  • Toning shoes: these shoes claim to tone your legs and help you lose weight when walking because of an unstable, sharply curved sole, but they can actually do more harm to your body than good; the main issue is that they are unbalanced, which can interfere with your normal walking style (gait) and put excessive stress on joints in your legs, as well as your back
  • Shoes with a steep and narrow toe box: dress shoes, boots, and any others that are narrow in the toe area don’t allow the feet to spread out naturally when walking, which can transfer forces up to the knees, hips, and back

Tips to assist your footwear selection from our Glenn Dale physical therapists

The good news is that there is a seemingly never-ending array of shoe types out there, which means you have a wide range of better options to choose from that will be easier on your back.  Here are some general tips on footwear selection and modification from our Glenn Dale physical therapists that will help to ease your back pain:

  • Try to minimize the amount of time spent wearing any of the footwear types described above, or if possible, avoid wearing them altogether
    • If you would like to wear high heels, aim for heels that are no higher than 2-3 inches, and avoid stilettos completely if possible
    • For flip flops, there are many styles available that do offer sufficient arch support; go with these over the flimsy varieties
    • Many varieties of dress shoes, boots, and other shoes that typically have a narrow toe box can also be found with a wider box, which are far better choices for your feet and back
  • Wear shoes that have a thick sole and strong, supportive arches as much as possible; sneakers are great, as are orthopedic shoes that are specifically designed to provide the feet with the support they need
    • For running shoes, it’s best to go to a running store to have your arch and gait analyzed to ensure you’re getting the best shoes for your foot type
  • Consider adding orthotic insoles—either over the counter or custom-made—to your shoes, especially if you have low arches or flat feet
  • Make sure your shoes fit properly and are not worn out; if the soles are extremely worn, it’s time to replace them

As unlikely as it may sound, what you decide to put on your feet will not only affect how you look, but how you feel as well, and bad footwear decisions may be a contributing cause to your back pain.  Avoid further strain to your back by following these tips, and for any additional pain, our Glenn Dale physical therapists can help.  Contact CAM Physical Therapy at 301-453-7398 today to schedule an appointment at any of our four locations in Glenn Dale/Bowie, Laurel, or Hyattsville, or Silver Spring, MD, or click here for more information on footwear selection and back pain.