Running exercises and conditions the body. When you’re a runner saddled with low back pain, you need the best running shoes possible. Running can create new back problems or aggravate existing conditions. Good running shoes can absorb the stress and impact from repetitive foot strikes against the ground that compress the spine and tire the back muscles. For the average runner, stretching your core, calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings can warm-up the muscles prior to running. Running on softer surfaces can help with back pain, too. But choosing the correct running shoes for back pain is one of the most overlooked ways to solve this problem.
David Piggott, CPT, a certified personal trainer and running coach at PESFit in Virginia says choosing running shoes is based on each runner’s need. Runners with sciatica should first determine if the running impacts their pain.
“Typically for a runner with sciatica, we must first evaluate and figure out if the cause [of their sciatica] is due to the impact of running or the impingement (compression) of nerves. If its impact related, is it due to the arch of the food collapsing and over pronating (foot flattening inwards), or over supinating (think lateral compression of the foot) thus causing higher impacts at the foot that work its way up the kinetic chain* to the hips and back,” says Piggott.
In this article
- The Right Fit for Your Feet
- Shoe Types
- Best Athletic Shoes for Lower Back Pain
- Best Running Shoes for Men
- Best Running Shoes for Women
- For Runners with Sciatica
In order to know which shoe is right for your feet, you need to know your foot. Athletic outfitter Dick’s Sports recommends runners dip their foot in water, place the wet foot on a paper towel or sheet of paper and notice the foot pattern. There are three types to look for:
- Flat. Your entire foot will be visible on the imprint. Flat footed people have more play in their feet which makes them susceptible to more injuries. The outfitter recommends stability or motion-control shoes for runners with flat feet. “Wearing supportive shoes distributes weight evenly when you land and encourages a stable gait. People with flat feet often walk on the sides of their feet or have balance issues, so it’s essential to wear supportive shoes,” says Dr. Paul Ross of The Podiatry Center in Springfield, Virginia. For the flat footed runner, a lack of stable shoes can cause pain in the knee and shift pain to the hips, which can affect the spine and cause back problems.
- Neutral. A neutral foot has average arches and the imprint shows the heel and forefoot joined by a wide band. When a person has a neutral arch, their foot distributes impact from each step evenly. It’s critical to proper shock absorption which can prevent injuries and back pain for runners. Runners with neutral arches should choose stability shoes or neutral shoes.
- High. If you have high arches, your imprint will show your heel and forefoot barely connect by the outside of your foot. This foot type does not effectively absorb shock and requires shoes with extra cushioning. Runners with high arches need neutral shoes for running. Runners with high arches deal with more back pain. Your arch is meant to drop and lift with every step to absorb shock against your entire body. When high arches prevent that from happening, the shock can be transferred to your lower back causing pain after your run. “The shock of impact will be felt most profoundly in the lower back which will bear the brunt of the arch that doesn’t drop,” says Jonathan Fitzgordon, founder of the CoreWalking Program.
Piggott adds, “a rule of thumb is that impact should be limited.” He says every person should approach choosing shoes individually based on their body's structure. “The way our bodies form has a lot to do with the stressors we place upon it. If we are runners who have poor arch control a shoe with more support initially may be wise. Runners with higher arches and good intrinsic foot stability and running form may feel better in a less padded shoe with little to no motion control.”
We touched on three types of shoes: motion-control, neutral, and stability. What are they exactly?
- Motion-Control Shoes. For the runner in need of a motion-control shoe, this shoe keeps correct the destabilization that plagues flat footed runners. Motion-control shoes are firm, heavy and durable.
- Neutral Shoes. According to athletic shoe company Asics, if you’re a runner with a neutral pronation style (medium arches), these shoes absorb shock on impact while distributing weight on push off.
- Stability Shoes. These shoes are good for runners who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation, says outdoor retailer REI. Stability shoes have a firm "post” that helps to reinforce each midsole’s arch where runners are highly impacted by overpronation.
When shopping for the best running shoe for back pain for men and women, consider investing in the right athletic for your foot type, no matter the price. The cost of a more expensive shoes is worth saving the co-pay on a doctor or chiropractic visit if the wrong shoes create new back pain or irritate your existing back pain.
Here is a list of the best running shoes for men and women with back pain according to SafeTomatic, a data collection firm. You can read the complete reviews for each shoe, including the pros and cons for back pain sufferers on their website.
- Nike Men’s Vomero 12 Running Shoes
- Mizuno Wave Rider 20 Men’s Running Shoe
- Adidas Performance Ultra Boost – Best For Sciatica
- Nike Men’s Air Max Torch 4
- Vionic Men’s Walker
- Brooks Women’s Glycerin 13 Running Shoe
- New Balance Women’s W1340v2 – For High Arches and Plantar Fasciitis
- Adidas Performance Ultra Boost – Best For Sciatica
- NIKE Women’s Tanjun Running Shoe
Since sciatica pain can affect everything from your buttocks to your feet, choosing supportive running shoes is important. When you wear non-supportive, ill-fitting shoes, your feet and legs are forced to adjust and to compensate for poor-fitting shoes. This causes your pelvis to tilt forward and your gait is disrupted. Spine curvature is then increased and excess pressure hits the lower back and the sciatic nerve.
- Wear shoes that fit. Any shoe that doesn't support and cushion the foot will cause an increase in back pain.
- Wear the right shoe. Buy running shoes with built-in “shock absorbers” that support your feet while running.
- Change shoes when necessary. Over time, shoes will begin to wear. They may still look good, but examine the soles for excess wear and if they need to be replaced, do so before running again.
- Get orthotics. Talk to your doctor about your sciatica pain and see if orthotics can help prevent or relieve sciatica problems when running.
Sciatica takes time to heal. By choosing the best running shoes for sciatica pain, you may be able to stay on the road, trail, or track despite your condition. Piggott says there are rare cases where running and movement can help ease the symptoms of sciatica, but warns. “If running or impact worsens sciatica running should be removed from daily routine until a licensed medical professional can give the ok to resume running. Often times exercise with the guided help of a chiropractic doctor or physical therapist can do wonders in establishing and maintaining a recovery and maintenance plan,” he says.
*Kinetic chain starts at the foot and travels up the link of the body. Think foot, ankle, knee, hip, lower back, mid back, neck and head.