Are Zero Drop Shoes Bad For Your Back?

Have you ever wondered if those zero-drop shoes are really worth the hype? 

If you're a runner and you've ever experienced lower back pain, it may have seemed like there was nothing you could do about it. You probably tried stretching and strengthening your core, but sometimes that just didn't seem to help. 

And then, one day, you found yourself standing in front of a pair of shoes that claimed to solve all your problems: zero drop shoes. The promise was simple: these shoes would put your feet in the ideal position for running and would prevent injuries by reducing impact forces on the knees and hips.

The problem is, many runners have found that getting used to zero drop shoes can be seriously uncomfortable at first—and worse than that: some people say they've experienced lower back pain since switching to zero drop shoes! So what gives? Do these newfangled running shoes really cause lower back pain? Or is something else going on here?

The Connection Between Shoes & Back Pain

Back pain can be caused by a number of things, including poor posture, muscle strain, and injury. But one common cause of back pain that many people don't consider is wearing ill-fitting shoes.

The way your shoe impacts your posture is directly related to the way your body moves when you walk. If your shoes don't fit right, they can cause you to overpronate or under-pronate, which can lead to a host of issues in the knees, ankles, hips, and back.

When you wear shoes that are too tight or don't support your feet properly, they can put pressure on different areas of your feet—and ultimately your body—which can lead to back pain. This is especially true if the shoes are worn for long periods of time without taking breaks to walk around in more comfortable footwear (like flip-flops).

The best way to reduce back pain from shoe wear is to avoid high heels at all costs. But if you need some dress shoes for work or other occasions, try zero-drop shoes: those which have a heel that's the same height as the sole of the shoe. These will help relieve pressure on your spine and knees and keep you from leaning forward when walking (which can cause additional strain).

What Is a Zero Drop Shoe?

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Birkenstock Women's Gizeh Birko-Flor Thong

Zero drop shoes are designed to provide you with a more natural, lower-impact gait. The idea behind zero drop shoes is simple: if your foot lands on the ground with the same amount of force as it takes off, then you're going to have fewer injuries and more freedom of movement.

How Do Zero Drop Shoes Look and Feel?

Zero drop shoes look and feel like regular shoes, with one major difference: they have a level or flat sole. This means that your foot is in line with your toes and heel when you're wearing them, which helps to keep your posture upright and strong. It also helps to reduce back pain caused by slouching over or walking on uneven surfaces.

Do Zero Drop Shoes Cause Lower Back Pain?

This question has been debated for years, and there have been studies conducted to try to find the answer. Some people argue that zero drop shoes are better for your back because they allow you to keep your feet in a more natural position as you walk. Others say that zero drop shoes can cause pain in your heels, ankles, and knees as well as your lower back. 

While zero drop shoes are designed to be more natural and more comfortable than traditional running shoes, they won't necessarily cause lower back pain. The fact is most people who experience lower back pain while running has a preexisting condition that can be aggravated by running.

In some cases, wearing a zero-drop shoe can exacerbate your pre-existing lower back pain. But in others, it will help you manage the pain and prevent it from returning.

If you have been diagnosed with a spinal condition like degenerative disc disease or osteoarthritis, then it's very likely that you should not run in zero drop shoes. Even if you don't have a diagnosed condition, if you're experiencing lower back pain when you run, it's probably worthwhile to see your doctor to make sure you don't have one lurking in your future.

Advantages of Wearing Zero Drop Shoes

Natural Feel

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Birkenstock Men's Arizona Birko Flor Sandal

The main benefit of zero drop shoes is that they give a natural feel to walking. Many people who wear traditional shoes feel their feet strike the ground in an unnatural way, and this can lead to pain and discomfort.

Move Freely

When you wear zero-drop shoes, your foot has the opportunity to function naturally, which means that it has the ability to spread its toes and be comfortable in its natural position. It also means that if you were walking around with a heel on one of your shoes, you would be putting more pressure on one side of the body than another, which can lead to hip or knee injuries.


Wearing zero drop shoes is an easy way to reduce the amount of stress on your feet and knees. When you wear shoes with a heel, your body compensates by leaning forward, which puts more pressure on the lower back and hips causing pain. In contrast, wearing zero drop shoes allows your body to be in a more natural position which reduces strain on joints and muscles. 

It can also help you maintain a lighter stride and reduce the strain on your lower back. You'll also be able to use less energy to walk, run, or play sports.

Improved Stability

Wearing zero-drop shoes is also a great way to improve your balance and overall stability. The reason for this is that the heel of the shoe stays at the same level as the toes, so you don't have to worry about having to adjust for different heights.

This is especially helpful for runners who are new to barefoot or minimalist styles of running. It can help them get used to running without having to worry about adjusting their stride, which can be difficult at first when you're not used to it.

Potential Risks of Wearing Zero Drop Shoes

Lower Leg Injuries

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Birkenstock Unisex Professional Boston Super Grip Work Shoes

Zero drop shoes are built to accommodate a natural posture, which is why their soles have a large bulge at the back. This makes them great for runners and hikers who want to be comfortable on their feet, but it can also increase the risk of lower leg injuries.

The reason for this is that your foot will naturally be angled inwards when you wear zero-drop shoes. This means that your ankles are more likely to roll outwards and put stress on the ligaments in your ankles. The more you wear these shoes, the more likely this is to happen.

When you wear shoes without heels, your body is forced to compensate by overpronating—or rotating your foot too far inward—which can lead to injuries like shin splints and plantar fasciitis.

Not Recommended for Heel Strikers

Heel strikers are people who land on their heel first when they run and then roll forward onto the ball of their foot. This can be problematic because most zero drop shoes have little to no cushioning and will result in a jarring landing for the heel striker.

If you're a heel striker and you want to transition to zero drop shoes, do so gradually by switching out your shoes every week until you're fully wearing them. This will help prevent injury while you transition into the new style of running that's required with these kinds of shoes.

Transitioning From Traditional To Zero-Drop Shoes

Start slowly

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Birkenstock Women's Gizeh Braid Sandal

Transitioning to zero drop shoes is a process, and like any other transition, it's important to move slowly. The first step is to get the right shoes for your feet. You want to make sure the shoe has enough room for your toes and that you can wiggle them around comfortably. If you can't wiggle your toes around in a shoe, it's too small.

Once you've got the right size and style of shoe, start wearing them around the house or on short walks outside every day. Try not to go too far or walk too far at first—just 5 minutes or so each time is a good starting point.

As your body gets used to the feeling of walking in zero drop shoes, gradually increase how much time you spend wearing them each day. After a week or two of this kind of slow transitioning, you should be able to wear them for longer periods of time (like after work) without feeling any discomfort at all.

Practice Walking Barefoot

When you build up your barefoot time gradually and gradually, you'll be able to run longer distances without pain or injury, and you'll develop more muscle memory for running with proper form. You'll also notice that your feet will become stronger and more resilient as they're forced to take on more of a load of each stride.

The best way to transition is by building up your barefoot time over several weeks or months. Start by walking around barefoot for short periods of time during the day—an hour here, 30 minutes there—and work up from there until you're able to go out for a run in nothing but your own two feet.

Final Verdict: Choosing the Right Zero Drop Shoes

To conclude, zero drop shoes can definitely cause lower back pain if you aren't used to wearing them. But if you take the time to gradually transition into them and do some stretches, you'll be able to reap all the benefits of zero-drop shoes while avoiding injury–including back pain!

While this article has provided some information about the benefits of zero drop shoes, the most important thing is to try out different products and see what feels best. If you're looking for something new and exciting, go ahead and try out a brand or style that appeals to you. 

However, if you know what you like and just want a little bit more information about how zero drop shoes can help you, then take this article as an invitation to do some research on your own time—you might just have your next favorite pair of shoes in no time!
Check out our full lineup of the best zero drop shoe brands if you need help deciding which shoe is right for you.

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