Contrary to popular belief, open shoes don’t have to mean significantly less support. The best sandals for back pain have all of the necessary features to prevent overworked muscles and unnecessary pressure. In order to find those features, I spoke with Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, M.D., a New York City-based spinal and orthopedic surgeon. Here are the specific elements you should look for in a spine-supporting sandal:
- Insole: According to Dr. Okubadejo, run-of-the-mill flip flops “don’t provide enough support or padding” in the insole, which is the material inside of the shoe that makes contact with the foot. If it’s too flat, it “will not absorb impact when you walk” and not “have the proper arch support to [...] ensure you are walking with your natural gait.” That said, too much padding can “change the way you naturally walk, which may lead to back pain.” Look for a supportive insole that’s contoured and well-cushioned while remaining structured to the shape of the foot.
- Sole: The sole, or the bottom of the shoe, is “not as critical as the insole,” Dr. Okubadejo wrote to Bustle — but as with any shoe, it should be thick and textured enough to prevent slipping. Some supportive sandals also have special materials in the sole that further absorb shock.
- Heel: While high heels are notoriously tough on your back, you don’t want your shoe to be totally flat, either. “Shoes with a slight heel are best,” Dr. Okubadejo wrote. “A heel that’s the same height as or lower than the toe of the shoe affects the way your leg and pelvis turn. This will affect your spine and lower back negatively.”
- Upper: Finally, there’s the upper — the fabric that covers the top of the foot — and in the case of sandals, that typically refers to the straps. Look for adjustable or stretchy straps in order to ensure the most secure fit. “The fit has to match your foot size and width,” Dr. Okubadejo wrote. “If sandals are too rigid, they inhibit the natural movement of your feet,” but straps that are too loose “will prevent the foot from gripping the shoe properly.”
Using these criteria and a few of Dr. Okubadejo’s direct recommendations (the first three picks), these are the best sandals to prevent back pain.
1. The Overall Best Supportive Sandals
This is Dr. Okubadejo’s first recommendation for a supportive, pain-reducing sandal. It’s also a fan favorite with over 4,000 reviews, and one of my personal picks from my own closet. In terms of construction, the Vionic Rest Kirra sandal has all of the recommended features for long-term comfort, including an orthotic arch-support footbed, a raised heel, a secure adjustable strap, and a thick, nonslip sole. Unlike so many other orthopedic sandals, though, this pair is sleek and stylish with its triangular leather or suede upper, and even options with perforations for a lace-like appearance.
- Available colors: 12, including rose gold metallic, black, navy, and bronze metallic
- Available sizes: 5 — 11 (including wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “I’ve had chronic back pain for 5 years. No doctor could figure out what was wrong with me. [...] I tried these for a day at work and not only did my back pain not flare up, [it] decreased substantially! I was floored.”
2. A Slightly Cheaper Pair That’s Still Stylish
These Dr. Okubadejo-recommended Rockport Ridge sling sandals have an anatomically molded footbed, a thick sole that absorbs shock and improves traction, a microfiber interior lining, and an adjustable ankle sling. On top of all that, they’re still surprisingly stylish: The genuine leather upper has detailing and perforations that look so good, some reviewers have even worn them to weddings. Needless to say, they’re a great all-around value.
- Available colors: black, bronze, pewter, and white
- Available sizes: 6 — 11 (including wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “Great price and fantastic support. Classy-looking stylish sandals that make my doctor happy. Plantar fasciitis be damned. You won’t be disappointed.”
3. The Most Supportive Slides
These MEGNYA slides are Dr. Okubadejo’s third and last recommendation, and it’s easy to see why: Despite the fact that they slide on with ease, they have an adjustable upper for a custom fit, a raised heel with a deep heel cup to support your body at its foundation, and an orthopedic insole that’s a favorite among those with plantar fasciitis or lumbar pain. This pair also features a thicker, flexible, rubber outsole that prevents slipping inside and outside of the house.
- Available colors: black, charcoal, stripes, brown, and off-white floral
- Available sizes: 5 — 11
One reviewer wrote: “I needed a new pair of slides to wear around the house and soon realized that these could be so much more than just my house shoes. They are super comfortable and offer support [I] did not know I was missing but desperately needed.”
4. The Affordable Cork Sandals With 27,000+ Reviews
There are several reasons why these CUSHIONAIRE Luna sandals are a top seller with over 27,000 reviews and a 4.6-star overall rating, and most of them have to do with their supportive, customized fit: For one, the more you wear them, the more the cork footbed molds to the shape of your feet. For another, the vegan upper straps have a soft lining and are adjustable in two separate places. Finally, they come in a wide range of sizes, including half and wide options. Plus, many color options are just $25.
- Available colors: 15, including black, brown oily, navy nappa, stone, and silver
- Available sizes: 5 — 13 (including wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “I would buy these in every color if I had the money. [...] I have a hard time finding sandals that fit my feet. These fit like they were made for me. Love them!”
5. A Great Supportive Flip-Flop
At first glance, these Vionic unisex Ryder sandals look a lot like your basic flip-flops — but in terms of comfort and support, there’s nothing basic about them. For one, they have an EVA-molded footbed that’s been designed to biomechanically hug your arches for all-day support. For another, the thong strap is adjustable, so even those with wide or narrow feet can achieve the ideal fit. Also unlike your average flip-flops, the heel is raised and cupped to support your natural gait. While they’re listed in men’s sizes, reviewers have said they offer “great support” for anyone.
- Available colors: chocolate, black, and gray
- Available sizes: 8 — 13 (men’s sizes)
One reviewer wrote: “I love to wear flip-flops in the summer, but if I don't wear something with an arch it affects my lower back. From the moment I put them on I [knew] they were going to work well. I even wear them inside around the house.”
6. The Best Sports Sandals
For walking, hiking, touring, and more, there are these Skechers On-The-Go sports sandals. They’ve been called “seriously the most comfortable sandals” and have a durability level that’s “off the charts,” according to reviewers. The all-over straps hug your foot with soft fabric, and the ankle is fully adjustable with Velcro. Last but definitely not least, the high-rebound insole has responsive cushioning for shock absorption, support, and comfort.
- Available colors: 9, including navy, light mauve, black, and white with gray
- Available sizes: 5 — 12 (including wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “I usually have to contend with some knee and back pain, due to arthritis but the cushioning effect built into these sandals seems to absorb a lot of stress. I have worn them while performing various activities and even wore them on our trip to Disney, where I walked 20,000 steps a day. They are just great!”
7. The Best Wedge Sandals
If you’re looking for some added height, wedges are often more stable and supportive than traditional heels, because the front of the shoe is also raised. Even though these Clarks Arla Jacory sandals offer 1.5 inches, they still help to minimize back pain thanks to the contoured CloudStepper insoles. They also combine stretchy straps with an adjustable buckle, so the sandal hugs your foot without feeling too tight.
- Available colors: black, sand, and navy
- Available sizes: 5 — 12 (including wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “I have major back pain so I need comfortable shoes and these are them! They are so cushiony and soft to my feet I can wear them all day with no pain.”
8. The Best Waterproof Sandals
Birkenstocks are known for their quality, support, and comfort levels — but these toe-post flip-flops combine all of that with waterproof convenience. Reviewers note that the synthetic material is a lot like that of Crocs, so it’s quick-drying, washable, and can handle any amount of moisture. In addition to a supportive, contoured insole and a durable outsole, this pair also has an adjustable strap with a pin buckle for a customized fit. It also comes in just about any color you could want.
- Available colors: 25, including metallic anthracite, white, black, khaki, and watermelon
- Available sizes: 4 - 4.5 — 15 - 15.5
One reviewer wrote: “I needed some form of waterproof sandal to wear while by the beach or working in the yard. [...] All I wear now is Birkenstocks. My feet feel real good in them and I recommend them to anyone especially people with poor arch support and back problems.”
Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, M.D., New York-based spinal and orthopedic surgeon of Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care