One afternoon, with absolutely no warning, my back exploded with shooting pain. Spasms catapulted up and down my right side, then migrated down my right leg. I felt like I was being stabbed in the lower back, hip, and thigh, with some bonus piercing pain in my calves. And thusly, I found myself on the hunt for the best shoes for back pain.
Loathe to take anything stronger than over-the-counter meds, I initially toughed it out. But here’s the thing: When you’re a working parent, toughing it out hurts — a lot — because a job has to be done and kids need to be fed and groceries need to be carried. Lounging around with all the vigor of Homer Simpson wasn’t a viable alternative. I had to get this fixed.
I am not a doctor. I have no medical credentials, aside from once having interviewed the plastic surgeons on Botched. So I did the agony march, going from an orthopedist (who told me the pain would pass, in time) to an acupuncturist (who told me the pain would pass, in time) to a chiropractor (who told me nothing, but twisted me around with no results). Chances are, you can relate: According to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, nearly 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain, and 16 million adults deal with persistent or chronic back pain.
When I tried to diagnose the issue, I noticed that the pain was directly related to my footwear. When I wore flat sneakers with no support, my back hated me, going from dull pangs to full-throated paroxysms. When I dug out a pair of old but high-quality running shoes, the pain abated. The issue was support and cushioning, or the lack thereof.
After some deep research on running shoes, I read nothing but gushing reviews of the Hoka One Ones. And thus, the Clifton 6 entered my life. We are never breaking up.
The shoe that seemingly cured my nagging back pain.
The Clifton has the seal of approval from actual foot doctors at the American Podiatric Medical Association, a group whose endorsements are hard to come by. Its features are myriad, but the standouts are its full-compression EVA midsole, which gives you serious cushioning, and lightweight soles. So you get the two things you need: serious support, and a sole so light that you forget you’re wearing shoes.
Plus, the sneakers somehow make me feel more aligned. My feet feel more solidly planted on the ground when I wear these. My hips are positioned correctly. My posture is better. According to the brand (of which I am not a paid representative), the secret sauce is the “Meta-Rocker geometry,” which drives your feet forward and boosts your normal gait. That, they claim, coupled with the shoe’s “maximum cushioning,” provides top-tier shock absorption.
It all sounded good, but I wondered if this was all a very pricey placebo. So I wore flat sneakers to run errands. I love my trendy flat sneakers. But within an hour, due to, I’m guessing, the lack of support and completely flat sole, my right side was aching. Shortly thereafter, the shooting pains returned.
It’s not all placebo, as it turns out: Shoes, not surprisingly, have a direct relationship to back health. The arches in your feet are basically human shock absorbers, so the less support they have, the more your back takes a beating. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, you want shoes that “provide stability through the arch, good shock absorption, and a smooth tread.” Flat shoes, of course — what I’d been wearing most of the time — don’t have arch support. These Hokas, on the other hand, are the gold standard of support — they’re designed for road runners. My running days are long behind me, but who gives a shit when they’re so effective at reducing back pain?
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