Struggling with consistent low back pain? Feel like you’ve tried everything to kick this chronic pain to the curb, to no avail? Perhaps you’ve tried getting a massage and performing various low back rehabilitation exercises. Maybe you’ve even experienced some temporary relief only to have that chronic lower back ache return.
If this sounds like you, we have some surprising news– the culprit could actually be your shoes. Seriously.
As you work to rid yourself of lower back pain once and for all, checking the effect that shoes have on your lower back could be a critical part of the process. Here’s why, and what to look for when carefully selecting footwear.
The Link Between Shoes And Back Pain
Our feet are our anchors to the ground and should act as a strong foundation. Yet, in our modern world, many of the shoes that we wear are actually lifted in the heel. Even shoes that aren’t classified as “high-heels” are frequent offenders. Most boots (both male and female styles) have at least a small heel on the back that lifts the back end of your foot up higher than the ball of your foot. And most athletic and running shoes have some kind of heel lift over the toe as well. While these smaller lifts in shoes may not seem that dramatic, (especially if they’re barely noticeable to your eye) when worn consistently over time, they can actually begin to affect your back health– and not in a good way.
Here’s why. When our heel is continually lifted above our toes, even by a seemingly small amount, our body makes a physical shift to compensate for the altered stance. Here’s how it works. As we stand, our distribution of weight changes, pushing more of our weight into the ball of our foot and even pushing our hips forward in the process. The forward-leaning posture that this renders puts more strain on your lower back area. When this slightly forward lean becomes an everyday posture for you, it’s easy to understand how your lower back may experience chronic discomfort.
Back pain caused by footwear can be a difficult problem to address, as back pain resulting from the wrong shoes doesn’t typically crop up overnight– it compounds over time. If you continue to wear the same shoes that caused the added strain to your back, despite potentially seeking other treatment, it’s going to be much more difficult to even begin your real healing process.
Choosing Shoes That Support A Healthy Back
This all said, what should you look for in a shoe? There are a lot of shoes that may not appear to be particularly offending but could be causing you discomfort over time. These are some key details to keep in mind when choosing footwear that will support good posture and a healthy back.
Neutral Shoes And Zero-Drop Shoes
When it comes to finding footwear that works for you, it’s not a one-convention-fits-all type of job. However, both neutral and zero-drop shoes can help get you back on the right track.
Neutral shoes are designed to encourage you to land on your midfoot, instead of the ball of the foot like many heel-lifted shoes encourage. Though they may be cushioned in both the heel and toe areas, the way that neutral shoes are designed makes midfoot striking feel comfortable, and that’s a good thing! When our weight is more evenly distributed, our legs and backs don’t have to change and compensate for the shifted center of gravity. As a result, we have a strong foundation in this stance.
Zero-drop shoes can also be really helpful in encouraging a midfoot strike, which is what you should be after when it comes to cutting down on back pain and discomfort. A zero-drop shoe is simply one that doesn’t have a variance in height between your heel to your toe. Again, there may still be cushioning around your foot to give you support, but your heel-to-toe ratio is protected.
These are both great shoe options that won’t aggravate your back pain further. And if you’re still feeling a bit lost or unsure of what to purchase, many specialty shoe stores (think running shoe stores) can help fit and guide you to finding the best shoe for your needs.
The Details On Minimalist Shoes
It’s true: our ancestors used to wander this earth without any shoes at all and relied on their bare feet alone for transportation. Because of that, their feet and the stabilizers around the ankle and lower leg were much stronger– they had to be! That concept has been used as inspiration behind producing minimalist shoes that look to provide the bare minimum of protection against the elements for your feet in the form of a barrier against sharp rocks and terrain. In fact, the FiveFingers shoes became popularized off of this notion of getting back to our roots and building strong feet.
While the idea of strengthening your feet isn’t a bad one, be wary of diving headfirst into this new style of footwear as a means to get there. Likely, your lower extremity and stabilizer strength isn’t where it needs to be to support an immediate shift to this radically different kind of footwear. If you want to experiment with zero-drop shoes more consistently, think of your use the same way you may begin a new workout routine– beginning slowly at first, and gradually increasing your intensity and load as you gain strength and fitness over time.
Better Foot Strength For Back Health
The foot-strengthening concept that minimalist shoes are after isn’t a bad one. Because of our general shoe-wearing habits, as a whole, we’ve sacrificed some of the strength and mobility that our ancestors had before us. These small weaknesses can make matters worse when we wear the wrong shoes, which lead to other issues (like lower back pain). However, you don’t need a minimalist shoe to strengthen your feet.
To strengthen your feet, try incorporating some basic daily exercises. From big toe lifts to toe curls with a towel, a couple of focused minutes a day on foot strength could actually yield big gains for your posture and overall back health.
How Chiropractic Can Help Keep Your Back Healthy
Though choosing the right shoes is certainly a good step forward in improving your back health, chiropractic treatment can provide additional support to get rid of your pain for good. Chiropractic care addresses the root of the problem, effectively expediting your healing process. Through the use of gentle adjustments of both the spine and extremities, a chiropractor can help to correct misalignments (that can happen as a result of everyday life and the wrong footwear) that can cause increased pressure and inflammation in the body as a whole, including discomfort in your lower back.
Your chiropractor can also help ensure that there aren’t any missed diagnoses causing your pain. Your treatment will be tailored to your individual case, ensuring that you receive the best care for your unique needs.
Rid yourself of back pain for good. Get healthy now. Schedule an appointment online or call (949) 380-8883.
This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.