The Best and Worst Shoes for Back Pain

Your back takes a lot of the load for your daily activities – whether you’re working at a desk or walking around all day getting housework done.

Back pain becomes a common complaint at every stage in life, and the one thing that makes a world of difference is the shoes you wear.

Some shoes work the best to alleviate back pain, whereas others are the worst and will land you at your chiropractor's office. In this article, we discuss the best and worst shoes you should and shouldn't wear to ease your back pain and keep it under control.

*Remember these guidelines aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. Each person should find their own best fit, which may change according to issues like differences in limb length or feet width. But overall, these guidelines should help you find shoes that work best for you.

The Best Shoe for Back Pain

Comfortable Fit Shoes

The first and most cardinal principle when shopping for shoes is that they should be comfortable – and not just “possibly” comfortable, but comfortable when you try them on and walk around in the store.

It’s the Goldilocks principle – the shoes should neither be too stiff nor too soft – they should provide flexibility but also provide support. There should be enough toe room– just enough to be able to wiggle them – so you don’t feel cramped and the shoes don’t pinch your toes.

If the shoes give you blisters, unknowingly or consciously your gait will alter and you’ll start walking differently in a way that worsens your pain. On the contrary, if they are too loose for you, you could slip and stumble raising the risk of injuries. The correct fit ensures the alignment of your feet, good posture, and staves off aches.

A Mid-Sized Heel

The best kinds of shoes for back pain have a moderate heel that is between 1-2 inches i.e., slightly higher than the shoe’s toe level. By keeping the toes and ankles at approximately the same height, the slight heel allows your ankle to rotate freely.

Anything above or below this level can cause injuries to your lower spine and pelvis.

Cushioning, Arch Support, and Insole Padding

While walking, running, or jogging, our steps create an impact that runs through our bodies. Heavy-footed people will face more of an impact. In any case, having some cushioning along the heel i.e., the back of the shoe, and the midsole provides comfort and padding against these shocks i.e., shock absorption.

The padding or cushioning has multiple functions. It provides traction and grip so you don’t trip, take a fall, or lose your footing. Plus, it spreads out the impact, while also providing for softer landings.

You have to determine what kind of arch support you need depending on your specifications and arch height.

For example, the elderly will need a different kind of arch support and heel insole to protect their ankles as compared to those who run on hard surfaces like pavement to provide motion control that protects their tendons.

Some shoes have specific arch designs like rocker bottoms soles that provide thick foam/rubber linings/soles that distribute pressure evenly. They have a slight curvature both at the front and the back – they are often prescribed as therapeutic shoes for people with diabetic foot, plantar fasciitis (in which the tissue between the heel and toes becomes inflamed), and knee and hip pain.

By doing so they ease the movement transition between your heels and toes and reduce the strain on joints and ligaments.

You could also try sports sandals which provide support through straps in the back and across your feet. They also have enough cushioning and arch support, unlike slip- on sandals.

You can adjust the straps to your comfort, plus the soft footbed gives you grip as well, especially if you opt for cork footbeds that shape themselves around your feet, so get almost a customized shape over time.

Good options include tennis shoes, sports or running shoes, Birkenstocks with straps, and athletic shoes.

Worst Shoes for Back Pain

High Heels

This should come as a surprise to women around the world who have their share of backaches after an evening in their heels. High heels can cause immense back pain when worn regularly, although not as much when worn once in while.

They look good but aren’t so kind to your body. Stick with slight heels between 1-2 inches such as dress shoes, boots, or kitten heels. If you need arch support and still need some glamorous shoes, you can stop worrying about having to wear sneakers and opt for a cork heel for your dress shoes.

High heels don't have to be super-high to cause problems either. Even 2–3-inch heels can misalign your joints and muscles, and shift your center of gravity forward forcing you to arch your back and bend your knees slightly. This extra tension and pressure move up onto your calves and up to your shoulders.

Men aren’t free either – those cowboy boots and dress shoes can do a real number on you.

Flat Shoes

Yes, flip-flops and slip-on sandals seem comfortable – the epitome of relaxed and chilled out - but they are actually the worst for your feet unless they are orthopedic- style sandals.

Flats provide no support whatsoever, and you have to contract your feet inwards to provide yourself some stability. This places stress on your lower back and raises the potential for ankle injuries.

Avoid flats when you’re doing a lot of walking - these shoes allow you to take only shorter steps. This means moving around a lot will become tiring. It's unbelievable but flats do exert 25% more pressure on your poor feet than even high heels!


You can get prescription orthotics that have inserts and designs made/recommended especially for you by specialists like podiatrists.

Getting customized adjustments, alterations, podiatric devices, orthoses, and braces will save a lifetime of pain. If your pains still don’t subside consult a physician to check for underlying medical conditions such as neuropathy that cause similar.

Updated on: 21-Mar-2023


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