March 30 is National Take a Walk in the Park Day. Recognition of the day provided us the perfect opportunity to offer an updated list of shoe recommendations for those living with chronic back pain and spine conditions. It’s not the most glamorous thing ever, but the quality of life matters a lot. 

Many of us spine patients know that movement is incredibly critical to pain management and regenerating bone cells in our bodies. However, our pain causes many of us to avoid activity. You may be surprised at how much more motivated you are to get up and move when equipped with the right shoes. 

Know your shoe type

Your shoe type is directly related to your foot type: flat, neutral, or high. If you don’t know your foot type, you should consider seeing a podiatrist, visiting a specialty athletic shoe store, or finding answers at home with a paper towel and some water. Dick’s Sporting Goods offers this solution for determining what type of foot you have:

  • Dip your foot in the water.
  • Step down on a paper towel with your wet foot.
  • Observe what shape the imprint of your foot makes on the towel.
Knowing your foot type will help you determine the best type of shoe to buy.

Your foot type will determine what type of shoe best suits and works for your body rather than against it. In our 2018 article, The Best Running Shoes for Back Pain we discussed the three types of athletic shoes available to consumers:

  • Motion-Control Shoes that are firm, heavy, and durable and help flat-footed individuals with stability issues; 
  • Neutral Shoes, which are excellent shock absorbers for those with neutral feet or medium-height arches; and 
  • Stability Shoes for those experiencing overpronation or “flat feet.”

Before you begin shopping for your next pair of shoes, nail down your foot type. Shopping for the right shoe becomes much less intimidating, as you know what features to consider and which to ignore before you walk into a retail store or start searching online.

Walk the walk without causing more back pain.

Some spine patients or patients with sciatica need to abstain from running to avoid pain flares. There is a popular misconception that one burns far more calories running than walking. Women’s Health points out that walking is actually a great form of exercise for cardiovascular health, among other things, and most people burn far more calories walking than they realize. 

You may be burning more calories than you think by walking, verses running.

Many people living with chronic back pain and spine conditions complain of low-back pain, especially when standing and walking. Having the right shoe can make all the difference in remaining active and moving, which will often help pain management. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll look at good shoe options for the three shoe types: Motion-control, neutral, and stability.

Motion-control and stability shoes

Individuals with flat-feet, also known as dropped arches, may experience overpronation when they walk. Others with flat feet may not exhibit overpronation but find that they have balance and stability issues. For these reasons, if you have flat feet, you should be focusing on stability or motion-control shoes. As a reminder, motion-control shoes are more durable and heavy in weight. Stability shoes may be lighter-weight and a bit sleeker.

Every consumer list and podiatrist recommendation we came across while researching included at least one Brooks shoe model, if not more. In fact, CrossFitShoes had five Brooks models in their list, 15 Best Shoes for Back Pain: Tested & Reviewed. This wasn’t terribly surprising to our staff member Kelly, who personally recommends and raves about her Brooks Ghosts. She had this to say:

“I love my Brooks. I have wide feet that are large (size 12 women’s) and flat. I have overpronation and stability issues. To save money, I usually buy the previous year’s Ghost model on a third-party site. I might always be one year behind on shoe technology, but it’s much easier on my wallet.” 

A close-up of a pair of Brooks athletic shoes

Based on consumer reviews, we recommend the Brooks Addiction Walker for a durable shoe that provides motion control for both men and women. They are available in narrow, standard, wide, and extra-wide as well. This model isn’t built for speed as much as it is form and function. If you’re like Kelly and want a flashier shoe that will provide stability needed for flat feet and overpronation, you may be happier with one of their more visually striking models, such as the Ghost.

Your feet are neutral, but your color palette doesn’t have to be.

If you don’t have any arch or stability issues, shopping for shoes gets much more manageable and, in some cases, less expensive. The New Balance Fresh Foam 880v11 is our top choice for walkers whose feet are less high-maintenance. The price is comparable to the Brooks model discussed, and like the Brooks Ghost, these shoes come in standard and wide width. 

New Balance athletic shoes on display in a sports shop.

Women’s Health included New Balance Fresh Foam on their list, 10 Best Walking Shoes Of 2021, According To Podiatrists And User ReviewsWomen’s Health listed the New Balance model as the top choice for the best overall walking shoe. We like that the Fresh Foam 880v11 comes in a versatile selection of colors. More than some others, this particular model can boast that form, function, and fashion come together as one here.

Other shoe brands listed in various sources for overall comfort and style include:

Whatever your shoe type, you shouldn’t have to “break in” your shoes.

Determining your shoe-type is an essential first step to embarking on your journey for the perfect shoe. However, don’t discount how a shoe feels on your feet. Contrary to popular belief, there shouldn’t be a significant “break in” period for your new athletic shoes. 

Shoes shouldn’t be causing you significant pain. If you are experiencing pain
when trying on or wearing new walking shoes, they aren’t right for you!

Walk EZ provides a list of recommendations for shoe shopping that you may find helpful. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Trying on new shoes after 3 pm when you have been up and moving and your feet have had time to swell (as is natural for them to do)
  • Try on both shoes. Believe it or not, you may notice a significant difference in sizes from one foot to another. You may wear a size 9 on your left foot and a 9.5 on your right foot.
  • Don’t ignore pain when buying shoes. Yes, some shoes will adjust and form to your feet as you wear them, but nothing should feel painful. If a shoe feels painful, leave it on the shelf.

What we’re wearing at SpineNation

You already know that Kelly rocks the Brooks Ghost model for walking and everyday wear. What about the rest of the staff? Director of content, Chris Jones, is currently sporting a pair of New Balance for everyday wear. Regarding his shoe preferences, Chris stated, “I will say that Under Armor makes the best athletic shoes for me. I’m flat-footed, so the support and cushioning all around is great.”

Under Armor athletic shoe in blue and white

Chris went on to say that the shoes he wears for intentional walking for exercise are Fila Zarino Mono Sneaker. Those are marked down 40% off currently, so you could snag yourself a heck of a deal if you act now!

SpineNation’s fearless leader and CEO, Jay Resio, said that he wears Skechers and New Balance. “The Skechers have really nice cushioning for walking, running, and pretty much everyday wear,” he stated.

New blue Skechers athletic shoes

We hope that the information provided here is helpful to your search for the perfect shoe. If you try any of the recommendations, reach out and let us know how it goes. Don’t forget to get out and walk in the park on March 30!

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Join the community at SpineNation.com