We're all walking more these days, which is why your footwear should be front of mind. After all, the right pair of shoes should keep you comfortable and help reduce back pain.

By Rebecca Norris
October 12, 2020
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In the midst of quarantine, many of us have gotten into the habit of taking long, socially distanced walks around the neighborhood. Without the correct shoes, however, these restorative, health-boosting strolls can unearth an uncomfortable symptom: back pain. Believe it or not, the shoes you wear have a major impact on how your back feels. For that reason, we spoke with two experts to ascertain what to look for in a pair of walking shoes. By adding sneakers or sandals that meet these qualifications to your closet (you'll find a few expert-approved options here, as well), you'll be able to soothe your aching spine and get back out there in no time.

Getty / TravelCouples

Understand how shoes impact your spine.

Feet are the foundation of your body and thus the basis for your impact with the ground. "When your feet are aligned, it sets the stage for good alignment to your ankles, hips, and back," Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, a Vionic Innovation Lab member, explains, noting that the reverse is also true. "If your feet are misaligned—when a person pronates, supinates, or has a limb length discrepancy—this can affect the entire skeleton and cause pain, injury, and can even contribute to arthritis."

Look for a pair with arch support and a raised heel.

When it comes to finding the best back pain-mitigating shoes to wear for long walks, podiatrist Dr. Sutera says to look for sneakers and adventure-focused sandals, such as Teva's Tirra sandals ($80, amazon.com), that are made with cushion and arch support. You'll also want to be sure your pair are specifically designed to be shock-absorbing. What's more, she says to shop for shoes with a slightly higher heel, as compared to the forefoot. "This is called a heel drop," she explains, noting that it gives structure to the shoe that will reverberate upwards and prevent back pain as you walk.

Running shoes are a safe bet.

As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Sutera says shoes designed for runners—like Puma's UltraRide sneakers ($74.55, zappos.com)—work equally as well for avid walkers who might struggle with back pain. "Walking and running are both forward motions," she explains. "Both walking and running shoes can be used for walking because they are made for forward motion—unlike basketball or tennis shoes, which are made for side-to-side or lateral movements."

They should feel good.

At the end of the day, the best shoes to wear for long walks are fairly individualized. So long as they have a cushioned sole, ample arch support, and the ability to absorb shock, they're worthy of your consideration. The biggest determining factor, then, is how they feel on your feet, specifically. "The best indication that a pair of shoes will work well for you is that they're comfortable when you put them on and when you move in them," says Gretchen Weimer, the global vice president of product at HOKA One One (a company approved by the American Podiatric Medical Association). "Keep in mind that what works best for someone else might not be the best for you, so it's always best to try a pair on for yourself." She recommends the brand's Clifton 7 ($129.99, dickssportinggoods.com), designed with a full-compression midsole and a moderate heel bevel for support and comfort.

Replace worn-out pairs, which can be deleterious to your spine.

Once you have selected your perfect walking shoes, it's important to keep them in good condition. This also means replacing them once they're worn out, says Dr. Sutera. "Old and worn-out shoes are a major reason why people experience pain in their bodies," she says. With that in mind, she suggests tossing any shoes that are old, thin, flat, or worn-out in the soles. You also shouldn't wear the same shoes for daily life and long walks or exercise. "This can also lead to overuse, which can result in injuries and pain," she warns. Instead, she recommends having a "shoe wardrobe," which should consist of a few pairs that you rotate through the week.

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