Best Shoes for Back Pain

14 Shoe Models Featured

We tested over 60 pairs of shoes for this article. We worked alongside a doctor, who wrote our buyers guide. He/she also advised us on what features to look for when choosing the best shoes for back pain. From our research, we found the Dr Martens Men’s 8053 Oxford was the best shoe for men with back pain. For women, our testers voted the Vionic Kiara Pro Trainer the best overall choice.

When choosing shoes for back pain, you want to look for a design that gives your foot freedom of motion. This means a thin and flexible upper, minimal or no heel drop, and a flexible, slim sole. This type of shoe allows your foot to move naturally. It lets your feet absorb impact more effectively. Better shock absorption in your feet means less stress on your back.

Our testers loved the Dr Martens Men’s 8053 Oxford shoes. They tick all the boxes – the uniform sole and lightweight build deliver comfort, support, and stability. And they’re flexible, letting your foot move freely and naturally, to help combat back pain.

The Vionic Kiara Pro Trainer scored top marks as our choice for women. We loved the extremely comfortable, lightweight design. The orthotic insole gives great arch support, which takes pressure off your back.

We wanted to cover all the bases when choosing shoes for back pain. Our testers looked at exercise shoes for different types of workouts, including running shoes and shoes for strength sports. We researched hiking boots, and the best general boots for day-to-day wear. And we chose the best shoes for formal and social wear. This includes shoes that are versatile and comfy enough to wear from day into evening.

Keep reading to learn our top picks and read our buyer’s guide for advice on how to choose the best shoes for back pain.

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Table of Contents

Best Overall (Men)

editors pick

99/100

Our Score

editors pick

Dr Martens Men’s 8053 Oxford

Dr Martens Men’s 8053 Oxford

Why this product?

Designed to combat foot pain, these shoes help alleviate back pain, especially when it’s caused by foot problems.

99/100

Our Score

These versatile shoes were a huge hit with our testers. As well as being extremely comfortable, they deliver great support and stability. They’re also flexible. Originally designed to combat foot pain, these shoes help alleviate back pain, especially when it’s caused by foot problems.

The midsole offers moderate, comfortable cushioning and moderate arch support. It helps to distribute your body weight evenly across your foot. The cushioning works as a shock absorber to limit impact on your spine and joints. The flat, uniform sole is flexible. It encourages a normal gait and your foot’s natural movement. This in turn reduces stress on your back.

The air cushioned outsole gives hardwearing foot protection. It is flexible, letting your feet bend and flex naturally. The tread pattern provides good traction on all surfaces, to prevent slipping and injury.

A lightweight leather upper is soft and supportive. The cushioned collar sits below the ankle, adding comfort whilst allowing the ankle freedom of movement.

This shoe offers excellent all-round comfort, support, and stability. The comfortable design and classic appearance make it a great choice for both work and leisure wear. It is available in black or brown.

Pros

  • Flexible
  • Delivers great support and stability
  • Reduces stress on back
  • Provides good traction

Cons

Best Overall (Women)

editors pick

99/100

Our Score

editors pick

Vionic Kiara Pro Trainer

Vionic Kiara Pro Trainer

Why this product?

‘Vio-Motion Support’ technology promotes correct alignment of feet and legs. This leads to better weight distribution. 

99/100

Our Score

Kiara Pro is a highly comfortable orthotic shoe, lightweight, flexible, and supportive. It uses podiatrist designed technology to help alleviate your back pain.

The shoe’s EVA foam insole is designed to give a combination of comfort, stability, and arch support. The insole is removable, so you can replace it with custom orthotics if you prefer.

‘Vio-Motion Support’ technology promotes correct alignment of your feet and legs. This leads to better weight distribution. It gives support to your foot’s medial arch, improving posture and limiting foot fatigue. The deep heel cup cushions your rear foot, for extra comfort and support. All of this works to reduce pain in your back and joints.

Our testers liked the soft and lightweight mesh upper. It supports the foot, whilst the flexible mesh allows your foot’s natural movement. An adjustable lacing system gives a comfortable, custom fit.

The hardwearing rubber outsole protects your foot and limits stress to your back. It is slip resistant, for increased stability and to help protect you from injury.

This is a highly supportive, flexible shoe, suitable for all day wear. It comes with a higher price tag, but for that you get superior stability and comfort. It’s available in a range of stylish colors, with a choice of width fittings.

Pros

  • Promotes correct alignment of feet and legs
  • Improves posture 
  • Limits foot fatigue
  • Slip resistant
  • Highly supportive

Cons

  • Higher price tag

Best Smart Casual Women's

97/100

Our Score

Cole Haan Women’s Grand Crosscourt II Sneaker

Cole Haan Women’s Grand Crosscourt II Sneaker

Why this product?

The all-leather upper is supportive and durable. Its low top design lets your ankle move without restriction.

97/100

Our Score

Our testers like this supportive shoe. It is lightweight and comfortable. The stylish, streamlined design makes it a versatile choice for both informal and smarter occasions.

The all-leather upper is supportive and durable. Its low top design lets your ankle move without restriction. The interior has a soft textile lining and light padding on the collar and tongue. This gives a highly comfortable fit. The adjustable lacing system has flat laces, for a snug fit against your foot.

An EVA midsole supports your foot’s arch and provides stability. The engineered, lightweight cushioning system is responsive, flexible, and supportive. It promotes even weight distribution across your feet. This improves stability and balance, which in turn alleviates stress on your back. The cushioning provides a high level of comfort. It is breathable, to help keep your feet cool and comfortable.

A molded rubber sole protects the foot and is extremely hardwearing. The forefoot and heel areas of the outsole have rubber pods. These prevent slipping and give reliable traction.

Our testers say the shoe fits true to size. This is a lightweight, supportive, and comfortable women’s shoe. It comes with a reasonable price tag, in a variety of colors.

Pros

  • Supportive
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Prevents slipping
  • Alleviates stress on back

Cons

Best Smart Casual Men's

97/100

Our Score

Cole Haan Men’s Grand Crosscourt II Sneaker

Cole Haan Men’s Grand Crosscourt II Sneaker

Why this product?

The midsole uses ‘Grand.OS’ technology. This is a highly comfortable, lightweight cushioning system. 

97/100

Our Score

This smart/casual shoe is extremely lightweight, supportive, and comfortable. The stylish design is adaptable for a variety of occasions. The high comfort level makes it a good choice for all-day wear.

The shoe has a lightweight, all leather upper. It is comfortable, supportive, and durable. The low-top design allows your ankle to move without restriction. A lightly padded collar and tongue and supple, textile lining add comfort. The adjustable lace up system uses flat laces, which sit snugly against your foot.

The breathable cushioned interior promotes air circulation to your feet. This help keeps them comfortable and fresh.

The EVA foam midsole gives comfortable arch support and encourages your foot’s natural movements. The midsole uses ‘Grand.OS’ technology. This is a highly comfortable, lightweight cushioning system. It is flexible, supportive, and responsive. It helps distribute your body weight evenly across your feet. This gives you improved balance and stability, which alleviates stress on your lower back.

The outsole is molded rubber, which is hardwearing, and protects your foot. The heel and forefoot areas have rubber pods, to provide increased traction and prevent slipping.

Our testers found the shoe highly comfortable, and say it fits true to size. Its stylish design and lightweight, supportive build make it a multi-purpose, versatile choice. It’s available in a wide range of colors.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Breathable
  • Flexible and responsive
  • Alleviates stress on lower back

Cons

Best for Running, General Sports Men's

98/100

Our Score

Inov-8 Men’s F-Lite 245 Training Shoe

Inov-8 Men’s F-Lite 245 Training Shoe

Why this product?

A cushioned uniform midsole uses ‘Exteroflow’ technology to provide moderate arch support.

98/100

Our Score

Inov-8 versatile workout shoes are highly suitable for running and general fitness. They are supportive, lightweight, and flexible.

A cushioned uniform midsole uses ‘Exteroflow’ technology to provide moderate arch support. This slim material provides high levels of comfort and shock absorption. It limits impact on your back when exerting. It promotes a close-to-the-ground feel and aids stability. It is flexible, letting your feet move in response to the surface you’re exercising on. This again alleviates stress on your back and joints.

The soft upper is lightweight, synthetic mesh. This supple and seamless textile hugs your foot, allowing flexibility and movement. It is breathable, keeping your feet cool and fresh during long workouts. The shoe’s generous width aids stability and balance. The roomy toe box lets your toes spread comfortably.

A hardwearing rubber compound outsole gives good traction. Flex grooves under the forefoot allow your foot to bend and flex naturally. ‘RopeTec’ technology on the outsole’s midsection and arch areas give increased protection and durability during activities like rope climbs.

Our testers liked this supportive, flexible running shoe, and say it fits true to size. The minimalist features and generous width let your foot move naturally and comfortably during short and long workouts. It’s available in four color options: black, khaki, white and grey.

Pros

  • Supportive
  • Breathable
  • Provides high level of shock absorption
  • Aids stability and balance
  • Gives good traction

Cons

Best for Running, General Sports Women's

95/100

Our Score

Inov-8 Women’s F-Lite 245 Training Shoe

Inov-8 Women’s F-Lite 245 Training Shoe

Why this product?

The ‘Exteroflow’ uniform midsole is slim and cushioned. It offers great stability, and highly effective shock absorption.

95/100

Our Score

This ultra-lightweight running shoe is cushioned, breathable, and flexible. It’s perfect for running, cross training, and general aerobic exercise.

Our testers liked the lightweight, breathable mesh upper. It lets air circulate, keeping your feet cool during long runs or intense workouts. The soft mesh is snug but flexible, protecting your foot whilst allowing it to move naturally. The shoe’s generous width and ample toe box let your feet spread comfortably.

The ‘Exteroflow’ uniform midsole is slim, cushioned and highly comfortable. It offers great stability, and highly effective shock absorption. This limits stress on your lower back during workouts. It provides moderate support for your medial arch. This encourages good posture and balance. The slim, flexible sole lets your foot move naturally in response to the ground. This alleviates impact on your back.

The outsole is hardwearing rubber compound. It gives solid traction during exercise, keeping you balanced and stable. The sole has flex grooves on its underside, to let your feet bend and flex. Reinforcement on the midfoot and arch areas protect your feet during activities such as rope climbs.

This is a comfortable, lightweight athletic shoe. It’s a versatile, stylish choice, and our testers says it fits true to size. It’s available in pink, white, grey, or purple.

Pros

  • Ultra-lightweight
  • Breathable 
  • Flexible
  • Offers effective shock absorption
  • Encourages good posture and balance

Cons

Best for Strength Sports, CrossFit Men's

97/100

Our Score

NOBULL Men’s

NOBULL Men’s

Why this product?

The low top collar allows full ankle mobility. Light padding secures your heel in the shoe.

97/100

Our Score

Our testers like this multi-purpose cross training shoe. It is lightweight and flexible. The uniform sole gives a stable base, which is vital for strength sports.

A breathable upper combines seamless mesh with a durable ‘SuperFabric’ textile. It protects your foot during workouts. It is flexible, to encourage your foot’s natural movement. This disperses impact when you work out and relieves stress on your lower back.

The low top collar allows full ankle mobility. Light padding secures your heel in the shoe. Reinforced metal eyelets in the lace system help resist wear and tear. The decent toe box lets your toes splay, without hitting the front of the shoe.

A non-drop midsole absorbs impact and provides a stable platform for your workout. The molded insole gives extra shock absorption. It cushions the underfoot and gives light arch support.

The rubber outsole is thick and hardwearing. Its tread pattern features lugs (indentations). These deliver traction, flexibility, and support during your workouts. There are also lugs on the inside (medial) and outside (lateral) of the shoe. These give extra grip during rope climbs.

This is a stylish, functional shoe. It is versatile for wear in and out of the gym. It is a higher budget option, available in a good choice of colors.

Pros

  • Protects foot during workouts
  • Relieves stress on lower back
  • Flexible
  • Non-drop midsole

Cons

Best for Strength Sports, CrossFit Women's

97/100

Our Score

NOBULL Women’s

NOBULL Women’s

Why this product?

The flexible midsole has light cushioning, to absorb impact. The uniform sole promotes stability and good posture. 

97/100

Our Score

This versatile training shoe is ideal for lifting and high intensity workouts. It is flexible and lightweight. The uniform, non-compressible sole provides a stable, supportive base.

A supple, breathable upper combines mesh and a hardwearing protective ‘Superfabric’ textile. It protects your foot and allows it to bend and flex. The breathable fabric helps keep your feet cool. The low top allows unrestricted ankle movement. The padded collar secures your heel, increasing stability.

A molded insole provides underfoot cushioning, and extra shock absorption. It gives light arch support, and increased stability. The comfortable, roomy toe box lets your toes move freely.

The flexible midsole has light cushioning, to absorb impact. The uniform sole promotes stability and good posture. It helps protect your back from excess strain during workouts.

The flat rubber outsole is sturdy and hardwearing. There are lugs (indentations) on the sole. These provide excellent traction during your workout. Additional lugs on the medial and lateral sides of the shoe give added grip when climbing rope. These areas are reinforced, to protect the foot.

This stylish, versatile shoe is suitable for workouts and leisure wear. It’s highly comfortable and our testers say it fits true to size. It comes with a higher price tag, in a variety of colors.

Pros

  • Flexible
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Non-compressible sole
  • Protects back from excess strain

Cons

Best Casual Boot for Women

97/100

Our Score

Eastland Women’s Lumber Up Fashion Boot

Eastland Women’s Lumber Up Fashion Boot

Why this product?

The supportive, flexible construction encourages foot’s natural foot movement, which helps limit stress on back.

97/100

Our Score

Eastland is a stylish and comfortable fashion boot. The supportive, flexible construction encourages your foot’s natural foot movement, which helps limit stress on your back.

The boot has a highly hardwearing, flexible leather upper. The moccasin toe design has reinforced hand stitching, for increased durability. There are lace-up eyelets to the mid-calf, giving light stability to your ankle. The laces are Taslan, a sturdy engineered textile which is extra strong and non-pilling.

A fully lined cushioned insole uses active memory foam. This molds to the shape of your foot, providing comfort and support. A supportive shank sits beneath the arch of your foot. It promotes correct foot posture and helps to reduce leg and foot fatigue. It encourages a natural gait when you walk. This helps alleviate impact on your back and joints during movement.

Our testers liked the comfy, bouncy outsole. It uses a combination of rubber and EVA foam and is extremely lightweight. It is also flexible, allowing your feet to move naturally. It lets your feet absorb impact, which again results in less stress on your back. The mini-groove tread pattern on the outsole gives good traction, to prevent slipping and increase stability.

This comfy, supportive boot is available in four colors: brown, peanut, navy, and oxblood. Some testers found the fit is slightly large, so we recommend you try a pair before buying.

Pros

  • Highly hardwearing
  • Supportive
  • Reduces leg and foot fatigue
  • Gives good traction

Cons

  • The fit is slightly large

Best Casual Boot for Men

97/100

Our Score

Eastland Men’s Lumber Up Boot

Eastland Men’s Lumber Up Boot

Why this product?

The supple leather upper is flexible and protective. The moc toe design has reinforced stitching for increased durability.

97/100

Our Score

This is a sturdy, comfortable boot, great for all day wear. The supple leather upper is flexible and protective. The moc toe design has reinforced stitching for increased durability.

The construction includes a storm welt, which is a leather seal between the upper and midsole. This gives added durability and increased protection against moisture. Eyelets up to the mid-calf are threaded with hardwearing Taslan laces for an adjustable, supportive fit.

The synthetic outsole has a mini-groove tread pattern which gives good traction and prevents slipping. The outsole is a combination of rubber and EVA foam. It is both hardwearing and extremely lightweight. It is highly flexible, which encourages your foot’s natural movement. This allows your feet to absorb impact and puts less pressure on your back.

A fully lined cushioned insole provides comfort and supports the medial arch of your foot. This helps reduce foot and leg fatigue by encouraging good foot posture. It encourages even weight distribution through your feet, which helps alleviate stress on your back and joints.

This comfortable and supportive boot is available in two width fittings. It comes in a large range of colors.

Pros

  • Durable
  • Supportive
  • Flexible
  • Prevents slipping
  • Encourages weight distribution

Cons

Best Hiking Boot for Men

97/100

Our Score

Xero Shoes Denver Boot

Xero Shoes Denver Boot

Why this product?

The rubber outsole is lightweight and flexible. It protects your feet and lets them bend and move naturally.

97/100

Our Score

Xero Denver minimalist style, lightweight hiking boot really encourages your foot’s natural movement.

The comfortable upper is water repellent canvas with a comfy flannel lining. A wide toe box allows your toes to spread naturally as you move. A unique strapping system wraps around the heel of the boot. This lets you tighten or loosen for a comfortable, supportive fit.

A heat reflective insole provides warmth and comfort in cold weather. It is removable, so you can replace it with custom orthotics if you prefer.

The boot has a low to the ground design and a non-elevated heel. It encourages your feet to respond to the surface you are moving on. This leads to better balance and improved posture, which helps reduce stress on your back.

The rubber outsole is lightweight and flexible. It protects your feet and lets them bend and move naturally. A hardwearing dual chevron tread pattern gives superior grip.

Our testers loved this extremely lightweight and comfortable hiking boot. It is suitable for all but the most arduous terrain. It is available at a competitive price tag, in a choice of brown or black.

Pros

  • Water repellent upper
  • Heat reflective and removable insole
  • Reduces stress on back
  • Gives superior grip

Cons

Best Hiking Boot for Women

97/100

Our Score

Xero Shoes Xcursion Women’s Boot

Xero Shoes Xcursion Women’s Boot

Why this product?

The minimalist design promotes good posture and natural foot movement, which helps to alleviate back pain.

97/100

Our Score

We like this supportive, lightweight, and flexible hiking boot. The minimalist design promotes good posture and natural foot movement, which helps to alleviate back pain.

Our testers liked the slim and extremely flexible outsole. It lets your feet bend and move naturally, so they absorb shock when you move. This leads to less stress on your back and joints. The tough and hardwearing Vibram rubber sole protects your foot. A rugged dual chevron tread pattern gives great traction on all types of terrain.

The shoe has a non-elevated, ‘zero drop’ heel. This promotes correct posture, and the low to the ground design improves your balance and agility. It helps your foot respond to the surface you’re moving on.

A removable insole offers comfy cushioning and light arch support. You can replace this with custom orthotics if you prefer.

The lightweight upper is made from a waterproof membrane, topped with mesh for a snug and flexible fit. A roomy toe box lets your toes splay naturally, and the durable toe cap protects your foot. Adjustable straps around the heel and midfoot give extra support.

This boot has a slightly more robust design than some minimalist footwear, but it delivers extra grip, support, and foot protection. The lightweight construction was a hit with our testers. It’s available in black, green, and grey.

Pros

  • Supportive
  • Waterproof
  • Extremely flexible
  • Promotes correct posture
  • Offers comfy cushioning

Cons

Best Formal for Men

97/100

Our Score

Vivobarefoot Men’s RA II Classic Oxford

Vivobarefoot Men’s RA II Classic Oxford

Why this product?

The streamlined lace up system gives a comfy, supportive fit. The generous width encourages foot’s natural movement.

97/100

Our Score

Vivobarefoot is a versatile, smart casual shoe with a minimalist construction. The stylish, comfortable design make it suitable for both work and leisure activities.

The upper is high quality leather, which is supple and durable. The streamlined lace up system gives a comfy, supportive fit. The generous width encourages your foot’s natural movement. It promotes even weight distribution, which takes pressure away from your back and joints. A decent toe box lets your toes splay naturally when you walk.

The ultra slim 4mm outsole is made of TPU compound rubber. This is a lightweight and highly flexible material. It’s also very hardwearing, protecting your foot and prolonging the life of the shoe. The combination of slimness and flexibility allows your feet to engage with and respond to the ground. All of this leads to improved foot posture and helps to limit impact on your back when you stand and move.

The outsole has a tread pattern of circular nubs, which give reliable traction and prevent slipping.

The 3mm foam insole provides light cushioning and arch support. The top layer is cork, which has natural antibacterial properties, to promote foot health. The insole is removable, so you can replace it with custom orthotics if you choose.

This highly flexible and comfortable, minimalist shoe comes with a higher price tag. Our testers say it fits true to size. It is available in black, navy, or brown.

Pros

  • Durable
  • Highly flexible
  • Improves foot posture 
  • Prevents slipping

Cons

Best Formal for Women

97/100

Our Score

Vionic Women’s Spark Caroll Ballet Flat

Vionic Women’s Spark Caroll Ballet Flat

Why this product?

This shoe contains a podiatrist engineered orthotic insole. This gives great support to the arch of your foot.

97/100

Our Score

This highly comfortable slip-on dress shoe has a versatile, ballet flat design. But unlike most ballet flats, this shoe contains a podiatrist engineered orthotic insole. This gives great support to the arch of your foot. The comfy, supportive construction is especially helpful if you suffer from a foot condition such as plantar fasciitis.

The supple leather upper is fully lined. The satin edged collar is elasticated for a snug, adjustable fit. The firm yet flexible midsole provides stability and support.

The synthetic outsole is lightweight thermoplastic rubber (TPR). This is flexible, allowing your foot’s natural range of movement. It gives improved stability and shock absorption through your feet when you stand and move. This means less stress on your back.

The EVA foam insole uses podiatrist designed ‘Orthaheel’ technology. It cushions your foot and supports the medial arch. It improves your posture and foot and leg alignment. This encourages even weight distribution through your feet. This reduces stress on your back and joints, leading to fewer aches and pains.

A deep heel cup provides extra support and stability. Extra cushioning helps alleviate heel pain. The insole is removable, so you can replace it with custom orthotics, if you prefer.

This is an extremely versatile and comfortable shoe. Our testers loved the additional arch support provided by the orthotic insole. The stylish design makes it suitable for both daytime and evening wear. It is available in a natural or printed leather finish, in a variety of attractive color options.

Pros

  • Contains a podiatrist engineered orthotic insole
  • Gives improved stability and shock absorption 
  • Supportive
  • Flexible

Cons

What to Look for In the Best Tennis Shoes for Back Pain

Arch Support

Foot arch problems – flat feet, plantar fasciitis, etc. – reduce joint mobility [1]. When they do, the feet can no longer move freely or absorb impact well. This means more force is absorbed by our knees, hips and back.

Arch support can help fix this, restoring function and mobility to the foot. When this happens, the ankle and foot complex can cushion the body better.

The trick is to find athletic shoes that offer arch support without thick, rigid footbeds. This way you can enjoy both support and freedom of movement. Look for soft insoles and outsoles that combine flexibility with adequate support.

Cushioning

Cushioning is another way to reduce lower back pain. Thick foam soles, cushioned footbeds and separate heel pads all reduce striking impact. This saves your spine and vertebrae from doing the same, saving them from stress and pain.

Cushioning is best in sports that involve a lot of running, jumping, and landing. It’s also appropriate for hard surfaces like concrete.

Two things to note. First, you don’t want a sole that’s too rigid. This will reduce foot and toe mobility, which we don’t want. Second, you don’t want a sole that’s too thick.

This will reduce sensory feedback, causing its own problems. In one study, runners in highly cushioned shoes experienced leg stiffness and skeletal stress – which you don’t want [2].

A Thin, Flexible Sole

A rigid sole stops your toes, foot, and ankle from moving freely. This reduces their ability to absorb impact. It can also stop your foot from rolling through when you’re walking, running, or jumping.

We want the opposite of this. We want plenty of freedom of movement and a natural gait. We especially want flex around the mid-foot and toe. So, look for shoes that have a flexible sole which is thin rather than thick.

Limited Ankle Stabilization

In many sports, ankle stability is important and necessary. It protects the joint from sudden, unwanted lateral movements. This is why we see supportive high-top sneakers in sports like basketball so often.

At the same time, an ankle that’s stabilized by a shoe is less mobile. This means it doesn’t absorb landing impact well, sending it up the body instead. If back pain is an issue, we have to prioritize free ankle movement over stability in most cases.

A Soft, Lightweight Upper

The softer your shoe’s upper, the easier it is for your foot to move. The easier it is for your foot to move, the better it can cushion your body during sports. That’s why we want a soft, lightweight upper. Mesh is the go-to fabric.

A Neutral, Uniform Sole

Heel-elevated soles, which are popular in sports these days, change your gait and posture. They reduce your mobility the same way high heels would.

Over time, they shorten the calf muscle and Achilles’ tendon. Since the calf muscle has a vital role in our body’s cushioning system [3], we don’t want this.

Instead, we want a neutral sole that lets us move naturally. A little heel elevation is okay since it creates more cushioning for the back of the foot. Any more than a little is no good.

How Can Shoes Make Your Back Hurt?

When our feet touch the ground during a workout, they produce striking impact. This force is softened by the joints in our toes, feet, ankles, knees, and hips. Some of it, however, ends up reaching our spine.

When this happens, the spine has to absorb the rest of the impact. It does this using muscles and intervertebral discs.

Here’s how these work:

  1. Intervertebral discs are made of cartilage containing a gel-like liquid. They act as shock absorbers, separating and cushioning the vertebrae. This minimizes the force applied to our back.
  2. The ligaments and muscles in our back work to “stretch” vertebrae away from each other. This reduces impact, prevents over compression and lets the back move freely.

This means there are 3 main reasons for back pain during sports:

  1. The joints in our legs and feet aren’t providing enough cushioning.
  2. The muscles in our back aren’t working properly.
  3. Our intervertebral discs aren’t absorbing impact.

In my experience, problem #3 is relatively rare. Back pain is usually caused by weak or dysfunctional muscles. This can result in long-term damage to the discs and vertebrae – hernias, warping, compressed nerves – but usually doesn’t.

(Just don’t take the above as an invitation to self-diagnose. If your back hurts, my best advice is to see a doctor before anything else).

Can shoes cause back pain?

Absolutely. The wrong shoes can and will hurt your back. Here are 4 types of footwear you’d do well to avoid.

1. Old shoes with worn outsoles

A worn outsole can no longer absorb impact, especially on surfaces like concrete. It doesn’t have the necessary thickness; important material layers could be compromised. When this happens, your back has to absorb the extra impact instead. As you can imagine, this isn’t very healthy.

Moreover, almost all athletes wear down some parts of the outsole before others. This can affect pronation and posture, further stressing the body and the back.

A worn-out insole or footbed can almost always be replaced… But if the outsole is done, get new shoes.

2. Heel-elevated shoes

A small heel drop – 5-8mm – isn’t a problem. Unfortunately, many modern sports shoes’ heels are much taller than that. Doing sports in these shoes is like doing sports in high heels. It shifts your center of mass, it destabilizes you, and it removes your foot’s ability to absorb impact. All of this stresses your back, causing pain and discomfort.

3. Completely flat soles

Many shoes have completely flat soles. This includes Vans, Converse, house slippers, many formal shoes, etc. If you have back pain, avoid shoes like these. They cause foot instability and have no cushioning, which can lead to back pain.

4. Shoes with no heel

Flip-flops, clogs, sandals and even some sports shoes have no heel. This means they offer no arch or ankle support. This leads to foot fatigue, poor posture and the back having to absorb extra impact. Avoid heel-less shoes for running and sports.

Can barefoot walking help with my back pain?

Barefoot walking can help with back pain for two reasons.

First, walking barefoot discourages you from walking on hard surfaces. You’re probably not going to run on concrete without shoes. Since hard surfaces stress the body and back more, this is good for back pain.

Second, walking barefoot makes the foot work harder. This can correct many foot problems – for example, flat feet. Walking barefoot can improve posture, restore foot function, and ultimately reduce or eliminate back pain.

At the same time, it’s important to be realistic. Some problems can’t be fixed by barefoot walking. This includes some types of flat feet. Additionally, many individuals need more help than just barefoot walking can give them.

This can mean using a tennis ball to massage your feet; seeing a chiropractor; doing additional exercises. The best way to know what’s right for you is to see a physician.

Can the wrong size shoes cause back pain?

Yes – and it doesn’t matter if your shoes are too big or too small.

If your shoes are too big, your foot is moving around in them. The shoe is neither stabilizing nor supporting it properly. The foot can no longer absorb foot impact, which makes the rest of the body absorb more of it. This can directly contribute to back pain and more serious long-term problems.

Note: remember that shoes can get too big over time. Shoes stretch; the padding inside them collapses; foot size can change year-on-year. Make sure to check your shoes for fit regularly.

Then we’ve got shoes that are too small. These can constrict your foot, stopping it from moving freely. This also reduces the foot’s ability to move properly and roll through.

This has the same end result. The rest of the body has to work extra hard. The knees, hips and back all have to absorb more impact. This also leads to back pain and long-term problems like scoliosis.

Can foot cushioning cause back pain?

Yes, foot cushioning can cause back pain. This happens for two reasons. First, a thick, cushioned sole stops your foot from moving freely. In doing this, it removes your natural ability to absorb landing impact.

Second, it reduces sensory impact and stops you from gauging how much force you’re using. This is likely why runners in highly cushioned shoes strike the ground with 10-12% more impact.

In other words, extra cushioning feels soft… But really stresses your body. It makes you land harder while reducing your ability to do so softly.

Over time, cushioning can lead to:

  • Bad posture
  • Excessively hard foot strikes
  • Foot and ankle dysfunction
  • Poor hip mobility
  • Back problems: scoliosis, hernias, etc
  • Migraines

So again, yes; excessive cushioning absolutely can hurt your back. The effect is worse when foot cushioning is combined with a high heel drop.

You can buy the Dr Martens Men’s 8053 Oxford shoes and the Vionic Kiara Pro Trainer for Women by clicking on the links below.

Writer:

Team Shoethority

Last Updated:

May 19, 2022

George P.H.

George is the founder of Shoethority. He started testing and studying shoes after a series of sports injuries. He now shares his knowledge with Shoethority readers as a writer, tester and editor.