The Link Between Your Shoes and Back Pain

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They say shoes make the man, but shoes also make for some big problems if you don’t wear the right ones. Foot pain and ankle pain are obvious consequences of poor shoe choices, but it might surprise you that back pain is also common. Here’s why.

An old adage claims that shoes make the man, but did you know that wearing the right shoes can also make a big difference in your spinal health? Whether you choose shoes for what they say about your fashion sense, social status, occupation, or bank account, don’t ignore what they can do to your health.

Dr. Matthew Cerniglia and our team at Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas help folks throughout Fort Worth, Texas, and beyond understand the importance of shoe choice and how it relates to foot, ankle, and back issues. Here’s what you need to know before your next shoe-shopping spree.

How shoes affect your feet and ankles

It’s not difficult to imagine how shoes can cause foot problems. For example, footwear that’s too tight causes rubbing, blisters, corns, calluses, bunions, ingrown toenails, and considerable pain. Untreated bunions can lead to hammertoes.

Loose shoes can lead to rubbing and blisters, too, but they also leave your feet with no external support, so you may develop plantar fasciitis if your shoes are too big. Sloppy shoes also put your ankles at risk for sprains and strains as they work overtime to compensate for an inadequate foundation.

How shoes affect your back

As the beloved children’s song goes: The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone; the ankle bone’s connected to the knee bone; the knee bone’s connected to the hip bone; and the hip bone’s connected to the backbone. While this jingle is oversimplified (and anatomically flawed), it illustrates a valid point — whatever happens to your feet has a ripple effect that impacts your back. 

Because shoes replace the bare ground as the foundation for your body when you stand, walk, and run, their construction and characteristics matter. Here are some shoe types to avoid if you have back pain.

High heels and stilettos

High heels can make your legs look long and lean, but they’re horrible for your feet, joints, and spine. They put too much pressure on your lower back, leading to spinal misalignments and gait problems. 

Flatter shoes allow your feet to hit on the ground evenly with no dramatic forces or pressure points on your spinal column.

Flats and flip-flops

In general, the lower the heel, the better for your back, but don’t go too low. Flats, flip-flops, and other zero-arch shoes cause your heel to drop below the level of your toes — a “negative heel.”  

Shoes that mimic going barefoot cause your pelvis to rotate differently than thicker-soled shoes, leading to lower back pain.

Memory foam

Advertisers love to sell the cloud-like comfort of memory foam shoes, but these space-age soles often don’t provide enough support. Although they feel comfortable on your feet, they may generate back problems.

Hard shoes

The best shoes provide support and absorb shock. Hard dress shoes don’t cushion your feet enough, so each step's force makes its way up your legs and to your back.

Some sneakers

Whether you call them sneakers, tennis shoes, or athletic shoes, they can be an excellent choice for preventing foot, ankle, and back problems, but not all are created equal. 

For example, Classic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars or Chucks were designed in the 1950s when people’s feet were smaller and narrower. Even adjusted for today’s larger, wider feet, Chucks are flat and unsupportive — bad for your back.

How to choose the right shoes for back health

Your anatomy is unique, so the shoes that support your friend’s feet may not be right for you. Dr. Cerniglia analyzes your gait and posture to determine where your feet encounter the most pressure. He also evaluates your arches to figure out how much arch support you need from your shoes. 

Armed with these details, Dr. Cerniglia gives you a list of parameters that help you identify shoes that keep your spine aligned and your torso and pelvis balanced and symmetrical.

Contact us at Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas to learn which shoes are best for your back. Make an appointment by calling our friendly staff or booking online today.