How Your Feet & Footwear Can Affect Your Back

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One of the major causes of back pain for runners can be attributed to wearing the wrong footwear. But it shouldn’t be surprising that your shoes can cause problems with your back. After all, your footwear can greatly influence your stride and the impact your feet absorb as you run.

Ill-fitting, worn, or the wrong footwear could put your body out of alignment, causing you to compensate and use muscles you wouldn’t normally use. That’s why it’s so important to pay careful attention to what you put on your feet if you run regularly.

Not All Running Shoes Are Created Equally

When choosing running shoes, you need to be aware that different pairs fulfill various functions. The design of the shoe can aid your stride, or it can affect it negatively. Some shoes are built for speed, others for distance, and some are designed to support specific types of stride problems.

You need to work out what kind of cushioning you want or need and what shoe shape works for your body. By choosing the right fitting running footwear, you’ll reduce the chance of back pain dramatically.

  • Cushioning – Running shoes come with a range of cushioning – from a barefoot feel all the way through to maximalist shoes – which are super soft and are very thick. Most casual runners go for something in between with moderate cushioning as these are generally soft underfoot but still have a lot of structure. This helps the foot land squarely and promotes a good running posture.
  • Heel Drop – The drop is the difference in the height of the shoe’s sole from the toes to the heel. Running shoes generally have around a 10mm heel drop, meaning that the heel sits 10mm above the toe. However, there’s been quite a big shift in thinking about this as experts are concerned about the impact of the heel striking when running. There’s now a movement towards encouraging runners to hit the ground with the middle of the foot with each step rather than with their heel. This has led to an increase in zero-drop shoes being developed. These shoes mimic running barefoot and by removing the heel-drop they take away the opportunity for the misalignment that can lead to back pain.
  • Pronation – When we walk or run, our feet roll through what is known as our pronation. This is related to what position your heel hits the ground and what position your foot is in when your toes lift off. Neutral pronation is when you hit slightly to the outside of your heel and roll through so that your big toe is the last to leave the ground. This action can be exaggerated in overpronation. On the other end of the scale, you have supination. This is when you roll from the inside of your heel through to the outside of your toes. Both overpronation and supination can lead to problems in your ankles, knees, hips, and back. If you suffer from one of these, you can invest in shoes that will assist with promoting the correct amount of pronation as they have extra padding in the soles at the right places.

The Problem With Compromised Support

You may have a favorite pair of trainers that were the most comfortable pair of running shoes ever, but over time they’ll start to cause problems. Unfortunately, no shoe lasts forever. Eventually, the cushioning in the sole will begin to compact and degrade and the support structure will be reduced or eliminated altogether.

It’s important to monitor your shoes and look for any signs that they’re starting to get worn down. The outer sole may wear away, losing grip and exacerbating any issues you have in stride. The action of pronation or supination will also become exaggerated as the sole of the shoe wears down from use.

Creases along the sides of the sole of your shoes will show as the cushioning starts to compact. The more creases and the deeper they are, the greater your need for new shoes. This is especially important in running shoes and trainers you wear for high impact sports as the cushioning offers added protection.

Strengthening Your Body

Another way of avoiding back pain caused by footwear is by strengthening your body. When your leg and core muscles are strong, your alignment is better and your point of impact more stable. The more you run in the correct fitting footwear, the stronger you’ll get, which can go a long way to easing any pain you’re feeling.

To a degree, it’s possible to alleviate back pain from running a long race through stretching. Yoga and general stretching are great practices to get into the habit of if you are on your feet for hours at a time – even if you are in the right shoes.

Seeing A Specialist

If you’ve tried switching up your footwear and are still experiencing back pain, it might be time to see a specialist.

A podiatrist can help you with analyzing your shoes and the way you walk and run. Depending on your foot type, they may look into providing you with wedges or orthotics that go inside each running shoe. These inserts will help you get your feet into the correct position and train them to stay there. Podiatrists can also offer advice on your choice of running footwear based on the shape of your feet and the way you move.

You may also want to consider seeing a physiotherapist to help you with the pain you’re experiencing. These specialists can work on the actual injury to relieve inflammation and stimulate healing. Plus, they can give you exercises that will help strengthen your body and prevent the injury’s likelihood of recurring down the line. By building up the right muscles, you’ll stand and walk better and run better too.

Back pain is not something any runner wants to experience. But the cure may be as simple as changing your footwear – or doing a little more running.