Best Shoes for Back Pain Reviewed & Rated
Who would think that beyond style and plain comfort, there is more to think about in your choice of shoes? The consequence of a poor choice in footwear is not just limited to blistered toes or ankle dislocation as the case may be, but also the infamous back pain which according to the American Chiropractic Association, is the second most common reason for people’s visit to the doctor.
People with back pain, or those prone to it due to their activities, may be oblivious of the enormous impact a ‘harmless fashionable pair of shoes’ could have on their physical health, hence the passive decision when searching for, or purchasing them. It is simple – the body simply runs a chain like reaction and improper footwear can cause pain to travel from your feet up to your back.
- ASICS Gel-Kayano 25
- FluidRide Midsole
- Dynamic DuoMax
- Vionic Tide Toe
- APMA Seal of Acceptance
- Soft Toe Post
- CLARKS Sillian Paz
- Ortholite Footbed
Keeping this in mind, if you do find yourself among the percentage of people who experience the discomfort of back pain, most likely traced to factors that might include the choice of your footwear, you should consider looking out for some of these footwear criteria when ready to purchase shoes to avoid or alleviate back pain.
10 Best Shoes for Back Pain
1. ASICS Gel-Kayano 25
The midsole is constructed with this technology to give you an even greater bounce back. It’s also much lighter than your industry-leading EVA and has properties that provide cushioning and durability. You have the superb protection of the underfoot and an energy return that is very high.
The upper is has a multi-directional construction of mesh that is stretchable. There are also reinforcements within the stretch to give you better foot adaptability. You’ll have a fit that feels like a glove.
Cost and Value
The Kayano 25 runs high with an average price of $160. The price, however, is well worth it when you consider the technologies (the ones we listed barely scratch the surface) and the long-standing popularity. Don’t skip out on top quality that has been proven over and over again because of the price. There’s a reason why these shoes are usually a runner’s first choice.
Multiple shoe technologies
Breathable, stretchable upper
Protective, comforting cushioning
Tight in heel
Not very flexible
2. Vionic Tide Toe
For someone whose job includes standing for long hours or walking long distances, this Vionic sandal is built with the perfect arch support to give your feet a double dose of comfort and support.
The Vionic Tide Toe gives you the luxury of playing around the water on those sunny days without compromising on the durability of your sandal, thanks to it rubber but rigid soles.
Cost and Value
This pair falls under the little-over-average priced shoes on the list, but compared to the rave reviews from product users on its level of comfort, support and most importantly durability, it is safe to say you will want to have a pair of these in your closet.
Firm rubber sole
Made for shower
Easy to slip-on/off
3. CLARKS Sillian Paz
This specialized footbed is a combination of recycled rubber and advanced proprietary polyurethane. Breathable, lightweight, and washable you’ll have a footbed that provides you with cushioning that is long-term and moisture-control that is manageable.
The Paz is apart of the Cloudstepper collection. What makes the collection unique is its special combination of their Cushion Soft technology and EVA material. This provides you with a wear that is comfortable and supportive while remaining very lightweight.
Cost and Value
Low-mid price range but depending on your personal selection, it can run higher. Nevertheless, you’ll have all day shoes that support and help to keep your feet free from any discomfort. With the unique features for even more foot support, these long-lasting shoes are well worth the price.
Lightweight and flexible
Very snug fit
4. Mephisto Helen Thong
This sandal incorporates a cork/latex footbed as well as soft-air technology, to provide cushioning support and comfort for a long distance walker.
tTis sandal from Mephisto gives you over 40 colors and patterns to choose from, giving you the ability to find the right look for your personality and wardrobe.
Cost and Value
Providing your arches with every inch of support, this is a sandal that is worth every penny. While it may be out of some budgets, the look, style, and comfort of this shoe is one that is certainly worth checking out regardless of price.
Anti-slip rubber sole
For overpronating feet
Roomy adjustable strap
Sizing runs narrow
Inaccurate size chart
5. Orthofeet Asheville
The lightweight sole with air cushioning enables softened steps which in turn add some spring to your step when you walk - call it the feet shock absorber.
This slipper offers the option of re-inserting a new insole of your choice if you ever think of replacing the factory fitted ones with a custom orthotics of your choice.
Cost and Value
For so much ease, comfort and cushion all in one piece, complemented with loads of positive reviews from product wearers, the cost of these slippers is rated a little over average by buyers, but also viewed as worth the price for the service it provides.
Gripping rubber outsole
Detailed designed stitching
Limited color variations
6. Brooks Addiction Walker
The additional placement of dynamic gooey fluid units in the forefoot and heel area provides an ideal shock absorber for the feet; alongside the HydroFlow technology which improves the midsole cushioning.
Its style and shades of color it comes in - black, brown and white - make it an easy option to wear with various types of outfits.
Cost and Value
For a shoe that offers versatility, durability and comfort all at once, it is a fairly priced running shoe. It is no surprise that it has tons of positive reviews from both long and short term product users.
Spacious toe room
Lower arch support
Provides motion control
For overweight individuals
Shoes are heavy
7. Birkenstock Arizona
The upper suede fabric ensures your feet feeling secure from unwanted sting and bruises typically associated with harder materials.
Pair up with fuzzy socks during the chilly winter or just slip them on comfortably on sunny days, there is absolutely no limit to how much comfort you are able to derive from these amazing sandals.
Cost and Value
Monetary value of the Arizona soft footbed is steeper priced, compared to the regular footbed or other sandals on the list. The average user, as gathered from product user reviews, may not consider taking back their money on this one, for all the purpose it serves.
No break-in, molding
Comfortable soft footbed
Wardrobe adaptable colors
Limited strap holes
Extra maintenance required
8. Crocs Classic Clog
From its ventilation ports that creates breathing room for your feet, to its pivoting heel that provides a secure fit around your feet, you have yourself a beautiful summer companion in these sandals.
Produced from Croslite material, it provides a soft, lightweight, buoyant, odor resistant and super-grip sandal hence making it suitable for specialized or recreational uses such as hiking, boating, gardening or swimming.
Cost and Value
These sandals are one of the least priced among the list , presented in various colors and sizes for individual fit, that you do not need to be torn between choosing quality, comfort and price.
Easy to clean
Snuggly fit straps
Confusing size chart
9. Alegria Essence
From its lace-up closure that allows for adjustment, to its memory foam footbed that lets your footwear to be anatomically conformed to your feet, there is no falling short of total comfort with this one.
Its non-marking rubber and non-slip outsole is sure to keep you secured, on any kind of surface you may find yourself through the day’s run-about activities.
Cost and Value
Available in many colors and patterns for individual style preference, this sneaker offers you flexible styling options with almost any ensemble. One of the pricier option on the list but has proven through user feedback to be worth the penny, otherwise, there are lower prices available on other sales options.
Wide feet available
Breathable mesh lining
Perforated upper leather
Supportive, comfortable heel
Size charts inaccurate
10. KEEN Rose Sandal
This lovely sandal comes with a thermoplastic polyurethane shank placed beneath the arch to provide the wearer with arch support. This helps to reduce shock and helps to increase stability.
This sandal comes with a powerfully cushioned heel, which helps to absorb shock and painful impacts, which reduces the amount of shock that travels up the leg to the spine.
Cost and Value
This stylishly comfortable sandal that helps to reduce back pain can be found in the low-to-upper price range. Be sure to shop around for the best deal for it, though.
TPU Stability Shank
Metatomical EVA Footbed
AEGIS Microbe Shield Lining
Adjustable Hook-and-Loop Strap
Multi-Directional Traction Outsole
Sizing runs small
Stitching comes loose
A larger percentage of people will agree that most of their time is spent on their feet, and as we have been able to point out the relationship between the feet and back pain, it would not seem out of place if we paid that little-over-usual attention to some of the details pointed out on this list while out on our next footwear shopping trip.
It is also essential to point out that every activity has a shoe that best suits each moment; hence it is appropriate to take into consideration the kind of environment you spend most of your time. For example, standing, walking or running around hard surfaces like concrete floors will require a specification of a shoe, such as additional cushion support to evenly distribute weight and absorb shock, compared to another who spends more time hiking who may need more ankle and under-feet support.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Shoes for Back Pain
Back pain can be debilitating. If your back is hurting regularly, then you have a lowered quality of life. Before you chalk it up to old age or getting older, take a moment to look at the shoes you currently own and the shoes you’ve been considering purchasing. Some shoes are naturally more prone to causing back pain than others.
Shoes can and do contribute to back pain, as mentioned earlier. So, it’s worth your while to invest in a shoe that will help reduce your back pain rather than add to it. Plain flip-flops, un-cushioned high heel shoes, and super minimalistic shoes with little support or cushioning could be the culprits of your back pain, but there are other shoe styles that can also cause back pain. This guide will help you investigate and determine a potential cause for your back pain and then help you make an educated decision about your next footwear purchase so you can increase your quality of life.
Causes of Back Pain
There are many possible causes of back pain and it can be hard to narrow it down. Unfortunately, while the back pain can be caused by your shoes, shoes are not the only culprit that can cause it. It would be to your benefit to contact your doctor or a back specialist if changing your footwear and taking other steps to reduce your back pain doesn’t eliminate or reduce your back pain. It could be a serious medical condition! As with heel pain, back pain caused by your footwear can result in medical conditions or injuries if you don’t take action early on when the pain develops, so be your own advocate! Take action now rather than waiting until the pain becomes unbearable. Pain isn’t normal and you should not ignore it.
Poorly Fitting Shoes
First and foremost, confirm that your shoes fit properly. Shoes that are too long or too wide can contribute to back pain as your foot muscles strain to hold the shoe in place- that strain is passed up the leg to affect the back! However, shoes that are too short or too narrow can contribute even more to your back pain, as the shoe would be squishing the bones of your feet, which results in pain shooting up to your back over time. Shoes that fit improperly can also cause blisters, slips and falls, and deformities, as well as other medical conditions.
To confirm that you are wearing the correct size when you are trying a shoe on, check the following:
- There should be about a thumb’s width between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. More can result in slipping and sliding in the shoe while less can result in pressure and pain as your toes press against the front of the shoe.
- Your foot should not feel like it is hanging over an edge anywhere. The footbed of your shoe should align properly with your foot with just a little wiggle room as mentioned above. You shouldn’t feel pain while you wear them.
- The upper of your shoe should not constrict or rub abrasively against the top of your foot. This can result in injury and a lot of discomforts.
- Your heel should not slip out of the shoe when you take a step, but it also should not squeeze your heel. This can result in painful abrasions and heel bone inflammation.
Do not, under any circumstances, purchase a shoe that is too tight when you try it on. Most shoes will eventually stretch out, but they will not stretch out enough to fit properly quickly enough to avoid discomfort and pain.
Shoes with Poor Support
Poor support is one of the worst offenders when it comes to back pain. Plantar fasciitis and other medical conditions can arise from poor support, but it also causes back pain! Support prevents over or underpronation and hypersupination if applied in the right places. Even if you don’t have a medical condition or a pronation or supination problem, you still need a pair of shoes that offers sufficient support for your needs. Flimsy shoes won’t protect your feet from injury and will absorb very little shock, which allows the shock to climb up your legs to your back. However, you should not buy shoes that won’t bend or flex at all, as this will reduce the ability of your feet to absorb shock.
Poorly Cushioned Shoes
Poorly cushioned shoes are the next most common culprits for back pain. Cushioning is essential to shock-absorption and, given how much force is generated with each step, we all need at least a little cushioning to prevent injury. Minimalist shoes often don’t have enough cushioning to absorb the amount of impact necessary to reduce and eliminate back pain.
Worn Out Shoes
Shoes which are old and worn out lose their ability to absorb shock and properly support your feet. This can result in foot, ankle, leg, and back pain. Once the midsole can be seen through the outsole, it’s time for a new pair of shoes. Similarly, it’s time for a new shoe when the outsole looks crushed or when the cushioning has worn out and it becomes painful to wear your shoes.
Overpronation and Underpronation
Pronation is the natural rolling of your foot as you walk or run. Normal pronation is an inward roll of about fifteen percent. Overpronation occurs when your feet roll inward more than fifteen percent, which puts extra strain and pressure on your feet, ankles, legs, hips, and yes, your back. Underpronation is the opposite and occurs when your feet don’t roll inward enough to sufficiently absorb shock and adds to the strain and discomfort in your lower body, including your back.
Supination is the natural rolling of your foot outwards as you push off after going through the pronation process. Some people suffer from hypersupination, which means your feet roll outwards too much, which strains the muscles and ligaments in your feet and ankles, which affects your lower back as the pain and shock resulting from these problems shoots up your leg to your back.
Sciatica, bulging discs, disc herniation, disc pain, and muscle strain may not all be caused by wearing the wrong shoes, but wearing shoes that don’t fit, support, cushion, or stabilize your feet enough can exacerbate any pre-existing back-related medical conditions. If you developed your pain and discomfort after a fall or accident, then you should see a medical professional to rule out any serious conditions that require surgery or other treatment.
Cushioning is essential to protecting your feet from injury, but it also protects your ankles, legs, and back. Consider Newton’s third law of motion, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This means that each and every time you take a step, you are pushing down on the ground and the ground is pushing back against you, which allows you to propel yourself forward. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. As such, energy has to transform from one form to another. There is a lot of force generated by each footstrike and that energy has to go somewhere; it doesn’t just disappear.
As you walk or run, you are converting energy stored in your body into kinetic energy, which allows you to move. Then, that kinetic energy is slammed down into the ground, which pushes back with just as much force. The energy travels as shock through your shoe to your foot to your ankle to your leg and finally to your back.
Cushioning cannot eliminate shock, but it can change the way that it is distributed and prevent more of that shock from running your legs to your back, which will reduce back pain. However, as great as most forms of cushioning can be, not all kinds of cushioning are effective or useful for reducing or eliminating back pain. Padding in the upper of your shoe, for example, can make the shoe more comfortable, but it doesn’t absorb the shock from each footstrike.
The insole or insert of your shoe needs to provide ample cushioning without hindering the flexibility or support features of the shoe. Many shoe manufacturers use EVA, or ethyl vinyl acetate, memory foam in their insoles, but they also use polyurethane and other kinds of soft, responsive foams. Each can be effective, but EVA is used the most often.
When you are shopping for a shoe, consider the areas of your shoe that experience the most wear- those areas are the areas that need the most cushioning, so look for a shoe with an insole that meets those needs.
Some shoe manufacturers and models come with removable inserts, so you can replace them with custom orthotics if you need to, but it would be less expensive to find a shoe that has the appropriate amount of cushioning for you.
Midsole cushioning is wedged between the insole and the outsole and is often made with EVA foam. These units are never replaceable, so the midsole units are usually made of more durable materials so the shoe lasts longer. These units often offer the most bounceback and responsive cushioning.
The outsole of the shoe provides shock absorption, as well. Specialized air pockets can be placed in the heel, which further reduces the shock from each footstrike and it feels like you’re walking on air, too!
Specialized Cushioning Locations
Sometimes you need more cushioning under your arch or beneath your heel. These midsole or outsole units help to absorb shock and provide some support for your arch and heel. Not all shoes come with either or both of them, so bear that in mind if you need extra arch support or if your heel suffers a lot of painful impacts.
To promote normal pronation and supination, many shoe manufacturers use different support features to reduce back pain resulting from abnormal pronation and supination. Most shoes that offer the most support are stability and motion control shoes, but sometimes these don’t offer enough shock-absorbing cushioning and can still result in injury and back pain. So, make sure that the support is positioned exactly where you need it before you make the investment.
Consider your arches. Do you have a high, normal, or flat arch? The simplest way to determine this is to place a sheet of paper or a towel on the ground, get your foot wet, and then step on the paper or towel. If the shape of your foot on the paper is very thin and skinny in the middle, then you likely have a high arch. If you have what looks like a complete outline of your foot and the middle of your footprint is as wide as your foot, then you likely have a flat arch. If your footprint is somewhere between those extremes, then you likely have a normal arch. You’re more likely to have problems with pronation if your arch is high or flat. If you have a high arch, you’re more likely to have problems with overpronation and undersupination whereas a flat arch would cause you to have problems with underpronation and hypersupination.
Arch Support Units
Usually, an arch support unit is placed in the midsole section of the shoe and takes the form of a firm EVA foam wedge, but can also take the form of foam pillars or a midfoot shank made with thermoplastic polyurethane. Some shanks extend from the edge of the forefoot to the heel, providing both arch and heel support at the same time.
Heel Support Units
Heel support units can be found in the outsole or midsole sections of the shoe. They can take the form of a firm EVA or another foam wedge, but they can also come in the form of a thermoplastic polyurethane ring encasing EVA foam, which provides support and shock-absorption at the same time.
Other Forms of Support Units
Other forms of support found in shoes include synthetic or leather overlays or firm upper parts, but these rarely affect back pain. The exception to this rule would be a firm back of the shoe, which can help to stabilize your step.
Flexibility serves as the opposite of support, but they do not necessarily negate each other. In fact, the best shoes for relieving and reducing back pain have a healthy combination of flexibility and support which team up to provide you with a comfortable step. A flexible shoe can prevent injury and discomfort. Imagine a wooden baseball bat. A baseball bat could splinter if you hit it on something hard enough. A bat made of plastic can bend more without splintering if you hit it on something. Depending on the type of plastic, it may not splinter if you hit it on something too hard. With these examples in mind, imagine running hard in a pair of shoes that won’t bend or flex. It could lead to a serious injury because the shock cannot be dispersed through the shoe and back to the ground without affecting your feet, legs, and back. Now imagine a shoe that is firm enough to support you, but flexible enough to allow natural foot motion and disperse shock. The second shoe is more comfortable and safer to wear.
Flex grooves are strategically cut into the outsole to provide more flexibility and give. These flex grooves are also good for increased traction and grip on the shoes, which further reduce your risk of injury and back pain.
The outsole material can improve the cushioning and shock absorbing properties of the shoe, but the outsole material can make the shoe more or less flexible. Rubber and synthetic outsoles are the most flexible and, thus, the best for reducing shock and back pain.
Flexible uppers are important, too, though they don’t affect back pain as much as flex grooves or the outsole material. Flexible uppers do, however, protect the top of your feet from painful rubbing and pain, so it’s important to consider, as well.
In terms of back pain reduction or elimination, traction isn’t as important as the previous entries on this list of criteria, but traction is still important. Wearing shoes that don’t properly grip the ground and provide you with the traction you need can result in a painful slip or fall and falling can result in back pain or injury. So look for shoes that have good tread patterns which allow water to slip between the grooves to escape so you don’t slip stepping in water. Look for tread patterns and outsole parts that are diverse and moderately deep to improve your grip in every terrain. A shoe with a flat outsole will do little to prevent you from slipping and falling, so it’s in your best interest to find a shoe with a diverse tread pattern.
Temperature management doesn’t have an effect on your back pain, but it can reduce foul odors, prevent athlete’s foot and other foot fungi, and reduce the occurrence of blisters from heavy sweating. Managing the temperature of your shoes can really increase your quality of life, as these things are quite unpleasant.
Look for shoes with mesh uppers or perforations in the sides, which allow for increased airflow. The increased airflow will cool and dry your feet. This will allow you to walk or run more comfortably while having your feet be dry will protect you from blisters. Open toe and open back shoes, as well as sandals, are great for keeping your feet cool and dry.
A good shoe for your back pain doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune. Good shoes that help reduce or eliminate back pain can be quite affordable and cost-effective. Shoes that you invest in should come with features that promote the shoe’s longevity as well as your comfort. Otherwise, you are left feeling as if you lost money on the purchase.
You need shoes that will last for awhile. No one wants to buy a new pair of shoes every couple of months and some shoes for back pain can be expensive. Even the affordable shoes would rack up a healthy bill for you over time if you have to buy new shoes every couple of months. So look for shoes with features that are more durable.
Consider the outsole material. Rubber or synthetic materials are the most durable without sacrificing flexibility or comfort. Next, consider the upper design: what is the upper made of? If it’s made with a mesh or fabric material, then it’s less durable than a solid leather or synthetic upper. If you want to preserve the breathability features of your shoes, look for a breathable mesh upper with leather or synthetic overlays, which protect more of your shoe from rips or tears.
Replaceable insoles are a nice bonus when it comes to increasing the cost-effectiveness of your shoe. If you have a durable, sturdy, and comfortable shoe that relieves your back pain, your investment in the shoe has already paid off if it lasts for half a year to a full year or more. If your shoe has replaceable insoles, however, then you can double the lifespan of your shoes! You don’t necessarily have to find insole replacements that are custom orthotics with a prescription, either. As long as the insert provides the needed support and cushioning in the right places, any insert will do!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Which brands are the best for reducing back pain?
A: Vionic, Orthofeet, ASICS, Merrell, and KEEN have some of the best shoes for reducing back pain, but this list is not conclusive. There are many other great shoes that are good for reducing back pain made by other manufacturers, too!
Q: Do I need custom orthotics to eliminate my back pain?
A: Not necessarily. If your medical professional recommends custom orthotics or writes a prescription for medical-grade orthotics, then you should definitely make that investment and use them as directed. However, ideally, a properly cushioned and supportive shoe can reduce your back pain without a custom orthotic.
Q: Where can I buy a shoe that is good for reducing or eliminating my back pain?
A: You can easily find shoes that are good for back pain online or in a physical shoe store. Just keep this guide in mind when you shop so you can find the shoes which are the most effective for reducing or eliminating your back pain.
Q: Which features of a shoe matter the most for reducing or eliminating my back pain?
A: The two features which matter the most in a shoe meant to reduce or eliminate back pain are cushioning and support because most shoe-related back pain originates in pronation or shock-related problems.
- Everyday Health, The Best and Worst Shoes for Back Pain, December 21, 2016
- Laser Spine Institute, Effects of Footwear on Back Pain
- Orthofeet, How Your Feet Affect Your Spine and Back Pain, September 9, 2017
- Stretch Coach, What is Pronation and Supination?, May 23, 2017
- Live Science, Equal & Opposite Reactions: Newton’s Third Law of Motion, September 25, 2017
- Wikipedia, Conservation of Energy, March 5, 2018