Summer Shoes Can Lead to Back Pain—Here’s What To Do About It

Your summer footwear choice can lead to low back pain. Here’s why you probably don’t want to choose flip-flops or sandals for back pain—and how to choose the right summer shoes instead.

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As soon as those temperatures rise, you likely can’t wait to break out your shorts, tees, and favorite sandals. For days, you wear your flip-flops wherever you go. Then you notice that your back pain has flared up. Could it be the flip-flops?

Back pain summer shoesThose flip-flops could be doing a number on your back

It could. Although there are myriad things that can exacerbate back pain (poor posture, muscle spasms, or any number of medical causes to name a few), something as everyday as your shoe choice can indeed impact your back.

Studies suggest that unstable shoes—like flip-flops—can lead to low back pain. Podiatrists agree that footwear that’s less than ideal can contribute to back discomfort.

Dr. Velimir Petkov, DPM, of Premier Podiatry, explains how something as simple as flip-flops can trigger back pain.

He says, “Improper footwear can allow biomechanical abnormalities in the feet to compound and worsen, and therefore lead to increased pain in the knees, hips, and lower back.”

As opposed to properly fitted athletic shoes, which are some of the best shoes for lower back pain, many summer sandals offer little to no support. Here’s how that can cause problems, and how to choose the best summer shoes for your body.

Why Do Summer Shoes Cause Back Pain?

As Dr. Petkov stated, issues in your feet can cause a chain reaction that affects your knees and hips, which in turn can affect your back. It starts with your foot type. Wearing summer shoes can worsen underlying issues you may not even know about in your feet, leading to back pain.

Back pain summer shoes - right shoesChoose the right shoes to spare your back

“In people that have flat feet, it tends to force your muscles and tendons in your feet to overwork, which can lead to tendinitis,” Dr. Petkov notes. “Also, unsupported fallen arches can lead to developing arthritis in your knees and wearing out of your medial meniscus. When the knees are not functioning properly, that puts additional stress on your hips and lower back, which in turn can lead to degeneration of your intervertebral discs.”

Arches: Fallen vs. High

Dr. Petkov explains that two anatomical anomalies—fallen arches (flat feet) and high arches—can cause back pain in different ways. “Hyperpronation, which occurs in flat feet, causes the arches to collapse, and therefore it puts pressure on the inside of the legs and knees, which in turn creates more imbalance in the hips and lower back.”

He goes on to say, “On the other hand, hypersupination, which occurs in high-arched feet, causes the arches to heighten and therefore it puts pressure on the outside of the legs and knees, which can lead to muscle imbalances on the outside of the legs and also in the hips and lower back.”

This means that wearing unsupportive shoes for long periods, like flip-flops, sandals, and most shoes with a heel, can cause back pain or make an existing condition even worse.

Dr. Petkov says, “When either of these conditions gets left untreated, the compounding effect of pes planus (flat feet) or pes cavus (high-arched feet) can lead to long-term debilitating injury and wear and tear in the spine and especially the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs.”

Back pain summer shoes - archesCommon arch shapes

The bottom line? Your footwear choice can greatly influence back pain.

How to Find the Right Shoes

Now you might be wondering, “How do I pick out summer shoes that won’t hurt my back?” First of all, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to do away with your beloved flip-flops altogether.

“Purchase a shoe or a flip-flop that is sturdy and one that doesn’t bend in the middle of the shoe but only at the level of the toes,” Dr. Petkov advises.

If you have flat feet, he says, “Look for a shoe that provides sufficient arch support in order to prevent hyperpronation and the related back pain that can result from it.”

Most importantly, when shopping for shoes for back pain, be careful to look at the details. For instance, something as simple as an ankle strap can mean the difference between being in pain and pain-free.

Dr. Petkov shares, “Consider buying sandals that have an ankle strap in order to keep your feet in place. Preventing the feet from slipping out of the sandals provides better stability during longer walks and can also prevent tendinitis in your posterior muscle groups.”

Lastly, Dr. Petkov would prefer people to avoid anything with a heel, saying, “Do not purchase sandals or flip-flops that have a high-heel lift. Increased heel lifts force you to shift your center of gravity forward, which forces you to arch your back when standing and that can contribute to back pain.”

Customize Shoes for Back Pain

Let’s say you’d love a pair of flip-flops that are custom-made for you and won’t cause any back pain. Well, you’re in luck, because this is entirely possible with the help of a podiatrist.

“You can actually get 3D-scanned by your podiatrist who can order a fully-customized, custom-milled flip-flop that will support your arches based on your individual arch 3D scan,” Dr. Petkov says. “

So, never fear. You can still wear easy-breezy flip-flops this summer and skip the back pain, too.

Updated on: 06/26/20
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Steven Richeimer, MD
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