Are My Shoes Making My Back Pain Worse?

Are My Shoes Making My Back Pain Worse?

3We know that everything in our body is connected. From our feet and ankles, up to our knees and hips – and of course, our back and spine. We may even notice that things we do with our feet, including the shoes that we wear, may affect how our body feels on a daily basis. But – can our choice of footwear really be having an impact on our back – and specifically, contributing to ongoing back pain?


Today, the Sole Motion team are talking about the important link between footwear and back pain – given that an estimated 70% – 90% of Australians will suffer from back pain at some point in their life.


First thing’s first – how much do your feet and shoes really affect your back – if at all?

The simple answer: a lot.

When everything is going right and we go through life without experiencing any problems in our feet or our back, it’s easy to never make the connection between how our healthy foot function may also be supporting good (and pain-free) back function. The truth is that when we have healthy foot function with balanced phases of gait (movement), good weight and pressure distribution, and good absorption of the impact forces that we incur naturally when we walk, this sets our ankles, knees, hips and back up for success. 


Now, when we wear shoes, they both become our new ground, and either restrict our regular movement or support it. Without the right support, stability and available movement range, our shoes may end up changing our foot posture and the way our feet function. This changes the way our ankles and legs move when we walk – which changes the dynamics between our muscles, ligaments and joints that start at the ground and move all the way up to our back. The natural way we absorb shock and transmit forces may also change, and given that our feet can take on up to three times our body weight with every step, this has the potential to significantly affect our back.


Example one: The narrow shoe

Let’s take narrow shoes as our first example. When we cram our feet and toes into tight, narrow or pointed shoes, we greatly restrict our normal, natural foot function. Our toes can no longer splay for added stability. Our base of gait specific to that one foot may narrow, leading to greater instability as our foot naturally rolls in (pronates) and rolls out (supinates) during gait. The strength with which we push off the ground to take our next step is altered, and our centre of pressure from where we toe-off is likely to have shifted, too. When we can’t absorb shock and transmit forces smoothly, the effects can quickly travel up our body – and may ultimately reach our back.


Example two: The heeled shoe

Let’s be clear: we don’t just mean your usual women’s high heels. We’ve been noticing significant heels sneakily (and purposefully) in-built into shoes – including men’s dress shoes – for a long time now, just check out this example here. Studies have shown that raising the heel by 4cm or higher results in a loss of functional stability in your feet. When your heel is lifted significantly, your weight shifts forward on your forefoot. Your body, including your back, must then start compensating to keep you upright while your chest wants to naturally push forwards. This can create tension on your back (as well as the rest of the body) which may cause or exacerbate back pain. 


When the problem starts at your feet

1In light of the two examples above, it’s important to point out that the problem doesn’t always start with the shoes – it can start with your feet and their biomechanics, with your shoes either exacerbating the problem or failing to help it. In podiatry, there are certain problems that we know have the potential to lead to back pain. Of course, the way that everybody compensates and moves is different, but generally, these problems include having a leg length difference, excessively rolling in (pronating) which can, in turn, rotate and twist the legs, and excessively rolling out (supinating) which may leave you vulnerable to the effects of high impact forces and a tendency for your leg to twist outwards.


Choosing better shoes for your back

When it comes to managing your back, especially if you have existing problems, we highly recommend seeking professional help – like from our friends at JK who’s your local chiro team? Sanctuary Lakes Chiropractic, or Point Cook Chiropractic or Thrive Chiro & Wellness or EIR Family Chiro. While there’s no compromise for having a medical diagnosis and tailored treatment plan like they offer, making the right changes to your daily shoe selection can help assist your progress and relieve the tension that may be contributing to your ongoing problems. Here are our top tips:


  • Avoid high heels. In this instance, we’re classifying a high heel as anything above 4cm (in line with the research). Personally, we aim for below 2cm YES!.
  • Avoid tight, narrow, restrictive, pointed and rigid shoes. If your shoes are limiting or restricting your foot function, instead of supporting healthy and stable function, they’re a no-no in our books due to the unpredictable way they may alter your foot biomechanics
  • Do opt for good ankle stability. This isn’t as technical as it sounds – any good jogger or walking shoe like your Asics or New Balance will likely have good support around your ankle that will help keep your ankle stable, instead of letting it freely (and potentially excessively) roll inwards and outwards. These shoes will help you feel comfortable and confident on your feet
  • Choose the right level of arch support for your foot type. If you are flat footed, choose shoes with some pronatory control to help support better alignment while you’re on the go. If you have a high arch, opt for a purposefully neutral shoe – if you choose one with pronatory control, it may tip you further outwards and exacerbate your foot and/or back problems instead
  • Choose cushioning if you suffer from tired, achy legs. We spoke briefly about the high amount of force your body takes on during walking, and how sometimes it may not be able to absorb shock and transmit forces in association with other biomechanical problems. This is where a good level of cushioning in your footwear can help. The materials will help better absorb and distribute forces, so less is transmitted through your joints and musculoskeletal system – including up to your back
  • Always have your shoes professionally fitted. We get it – you know your shoe size, you see a shoe you like, so sometimes you just want to get out of the store as soon as possible. Resist this where possible! Having the right fit is crucial to good shoe/foot function – and can help you identify any unexpected pressure points too


Orthotics can help improve your foot function and comfort, too

Here at Sole Motion Podiatry, we often use orthotics to help our patients improve their foot alignment and biomechanical function. While this may help in the management of back pain, it most certainly has a positive impact on foot and leg pain by easing tension from overused muscles, damaged bones, and strained ligaments. 


We’re also proud to be one of the only clinics in Melbourne to offer ANF therapy to help relieve pain from a wide range of problems including your back. Book your appointment online by clicking here or call us on 1300 FXFEET

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