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I Want to Wear Boots, But They Hurt My Back: What to Do

Key Takeaways

Boots that are too large, too small, too heavy, or otherwise fit badly with incorrect support are all but guaranteed to cause back pain. The problem may not develop immediately, but with time and repeated wear, any pain or discomfort in your feet may ultimately lead to ankle, knee, hip, and back pain.

Do your feet hurt every time you wear boots? If so, you might be at risk of back pain.

Though the problems may begin in your feet, they may travel up your skeletal system and affect your knees, hips, and even your spine.

Not sure how wearing boots can cause back pain, or what you can do about it? Keep reading because I’ll break it down for you.

The Wrong Size Boots Can Affect Your Gait

Cuadra boots zip feature

When you wear the wrong size—especially a size too small—your feet will likely feel cramped inside your boots.

To reduce the pain, you’ll unconsciously (and consciously) tighten the muscles in your toes to combat the discomfort.

When your shoes are too small, it affects the way you place your feet with every step. You’ll take smaller, more controlled steps and won’t shift your weight fully from your heels to your toes.

Over time, this can wear on the tight, constantly tensed muscles in your feet and actually throw off your gait.

beckett simonon review featured image

Oversized boots are also likely to impair your movement. Your feet tense up to keep from sliding inside the boots, pressing down on the insole to try and maintain a firm grip.

You’ll also adapt the way you walk because you’re trying to move in a way that stops your feet from sliding or shifting.

As you might have noticed when limping or walking oddly after an injury (sprained ankle, torn knee ligament, etc.), an incorrect gait can lead to spinal discomfort. 

You’re no longer moving fluidly and naturally, and the minute shifts in the way you step will cause larger changes—for the worse—that travel up your spine.

Boot Weight & Material Affects How You Move

Timberland Mt. Maddsen Hiking Boots On a Rock

The weight of your boots will directly impact your comfort, especially after a long day on your feet.

Think about it: you can wear overly heavy boots for an hour or two, and though they’ll drag on your feet, you can bear the weight.

Ariat Workhog in sawdust next to log

But what about after six hours? Eight hours?

All of that time spent on your feet will increase the fatigue your overly heavy boots will cause, which will alter the way you move.

Over time, this adjustment to your movement can lead to incorrect gait, which wears on your entire skeletal system—from your feet up to your spine and neck.

Heeled Work Boots Can Be Too High

Georgia boots Logger profile close up

While an elevated heel can provide extra arch support, research has proven that wearing boots with too-high heels can damage the nerves, tendons, and muscles in your feet. 

Modern day working conditions means we may spend hours on our feet, in the same spot, or walking on flat, hard surfaces not found in nature. To combat this, bootmakers add heels to provide cushioning and support for the arch of your foot to reduce fatigue.

However, the elevation of a too-high heel will increase the pressure on the tendons connecting your forefeet to your heel bones, as well as add pressure onto the forefoot muscles that have to support more of your weight.

Lack of Insoles Causes High Impact When Walking

Danner Bull Run ortholite insole detail

Insoles are added into boots to provide extra cushioning and absorb shock. Without them, your feet are vulnerable to the repeated impact of moving around.

The impact on your feet when walking is very minute by comparison to, say, running or jumping, but even that small impact can wear away at your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments over long hours.

When your feet begin to hurt, the rest of your skeletal system tries to “pitch in” and compensate to reduce pain.

This can lead to back pain, especially if your activity is high-impact enough that the vibrations travel up your legs and reverberate through your spinal bones. 

Inadequate Arch Support Affects Stability

Brunt Workwear 16

Without proper arch support, your boots will feel unstable and unsteady, and as a result, you’ll feel unsteady, too.

Your brain will try to compensate for this instability by keeping your foot muscles constantly tensed and ready to react if your base of support shifts beneath you.

The constant tension in your foot muscles will lead to fatigue, and you can feel the effects traveling all the way up your skeletal system.

Wearing The Wrong Boot Type Causes Many Issues

MGemi dritto chelsea boot model wearing chelsea boot and jeans 1

This should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway: wearing the wrong boots can all but guarantee foot, knee, hip, and back pain.

Think about it: work boots are built not only to protect your feet from flying nails or crush and or trip hazards, but also from the wear and tear of long days on your feet. Hunting boots are built to keep out water and dirt but also provide ample support for hours spent hiking, kneeling, and climbing. 

But what happens if you wear a pair of heavy-duty steel toed boots to go hunting? Or a pair of Hunting boots to walk on concrete all day long? 

Ariat Lace Up Work Boots

The answer is pretty clear: your feet and the rest of your body will be in pain because you’re wearing the wrong boots for the wrong task.

This goes doubly for “fashion” boots or any boots built in a more dressy style. These boots are intended to be worn indoors or for long hours of sitting. Wearing them for any kind of work all but guarantees foot, ankle, knee, and back pain because they don’t have anywhere near enough support or protection for use on the job.

What to Do If Your Boots Are Causing Back Pain

1) Ensure The Correct Fit

Diagram of foot to show how boots should fit

This is always the first—and most important—step!

As we explained above, a boot that’s too tight will cause your feet to tense up to contract and reduce friction, while an oversized boot will also lead to muscle tension as you try to stop your feet from shifting or sliding around.

You can eliminate both potential pain points by buying a pair of boots that actually fit your feet. That means not only the right size (length) but also the correct width.

measuring your foot with a Brannock Device

If you can test boots in person at a local bootmakers’ or shoe store, I strongly recommend it. That’s the best way to get the most accurate fit for your specific foot structure and shape. If this isn’t possible, the next best solution is using a Brannock device.

Make Sure You Have Enough Arch Support

Thursday Diplomat arch support detail

Arch support is crucial for staving off foot, knee, hip, and back pain.

Arch support distributes your body weight evenly to reduce the strain on your muscles and tendons. That will not only prevent foot fatigue but also improve your posture, balance, and overall mobility.

Typically, arch support is provided either by a higher heel (1 to 2 inches, depending on the boot style) or a solid midsole (usually EVA or rubber foam) integrated into the shoes directly beneath your arches.

It’s absolutely imperative to keep arch support in mind for any pair of shoes you’re considering.

Invest in Boots With Shock-Absorption

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As a big, heavy guy, I can’t imagine wearing a pair of boots without ample shock absorption. I need the cushioning to bear up under my weight (250 pounds) and support my oversized frame (6’6”) when I’m walking, hiking, hunting, or working.

Many boots come with built-in shock-absorbing insoles that will do an amazing job of reducing impact. Others feature removable orthotic inserts that provide cushioning but can be swapped out if you need thicker or thinner padding under your feet.

Some boots, particularly work boots and more athletic-styled boots, will feature extra shock absorption built into the outsole or midsole, often in the form of compression pads or “air chambers” (like bubbles).

I can’t exaggerate the importance of shock absorption enough, for anyone spending more than a few hours a day on their feet.

Get High-Quality Insoles

Tread Labs pace insole with footbeds

Whatever pair of boots you buy, it’s always a good idea to buy an extra pair of high-quality, impact-reducing insoles on the side. That way, when the insoles that come with the boots compress or wear out (which they always do, it’s just a matter of time), you have another pair ready to replace them.

It’s not just a good idea—it’s an absolute must if you’re going to be wearing your boots all day, every day.

Try A Quality Pair of Boots from A Reputable Brand

Red Wing Classic Chelsea

There’s a lot to be said for boots bought from a reputable brand with lots of high reviews.

But really, it all boils down to a simple concept: the brand is reputable because they’ve proven they can design footwear that delivers exactly what users want. That includes stylish good looks and comfort.

We’ve covered some of the best men’s boots from top boot brands here at BootsSpy (over 100 pairs tried and tested, actually), but this is by no means the most exhaustive list.

There will always be newcomers to the market who produce good or even great products, but for safety’s sake, it’s always smarter to invest in a tried-and-proven brand.

Conclusion

Just like the right pair of boots can make any day more comfortable, the wrong pair of boots can absolutely ruin even a great day.

If the boots are too small, too large, too heavy, too high in the heels, lack sufficient impact absorption and arch support, or are just the wrong pair of boots for the job, you’re all but guaranteed to develop foot pain.

Over time, that pain will begin to migrate, leading to knee problems, achy hips, and back pain—maybe even to the point of more serious injuries.

Protecting your back always starts by protecting your feet. Wearing the right boots will do exactly that!

FAQs

How do I know if my shoes are causing back pain?

Consider how your feet feel after wearing the shoes for an hour or two, then after wearing them all day long.

If they cause discomfort in the short term because they’re too big or tight, they’re all but guaranteed to cause long-term discomfort.

But even if the boots are comfortable for an hour or two, that doesn’t mean they’re fully safe to wear for long hours. They may not have sufficient arch support, stability, or cushioning to be suitable for all-day use.

Why do boots hurt my back?

Any pain, tightness, or fatigue that begins in your feet will eventually travel up your skeletomuscular system. That’s just the way your body is built.

If your boots are too loose, too tight, or don’t have enough support, your feet will try to adapt your movement in order to compensate. And because your feet are connected to the rest of your skeleton (of course), that adaptation in your movement or posture will affect your ankles, knees, hips, and eventually your back.

Can boots cause sciatica?

Incorrectly sized boots can cause sciatica. Anything that affects how you stand, sit, or move can lead to adjustments in your balance, posture, and the engagement of your muscles and connective tissues. Over time, these adjustments can throw off your proper movement and lead to pressure (and ultimately pain) throughout your skeletomuscular system, including in your lower back.  

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