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 an orthopedic surgeon to inform recommendations.
Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, M.D., is a board-certified New York City-based spinal and orthopedic surgeon who leads The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care. He attained a bachelor's degree in biology from Brown University and earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins.
What To Look For In Sandals When You Have Back Pain
- 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.
Shop The Best Sandals For Back Pain
In a hurry? These are the expert picks for the best sandals if you have back pain:
- The Overall Best, All Things Considered: Vionic Rest Kirra Sandal
- The Best Less Expensive Sandal: Rockport Ridge Sling Sandal
- The Best Slide Sandal: MEGNYA Orthopedic Slide
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 5,000 ratings, 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: 14
- Available sizes: 5 — 11 (including select wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “I normally wear a size 7 because of bunions but I got these in size 6 wide width & they are perfect. The arch support lines up with my own arch just right. And by the second day of wear, no more lower back pain. Did I mention that they are beautiful?!!”
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: 4
- Available sizes: 6 — 11 (including select wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “These shoes are perfect.. I bought a wide width and it is exactly what I would have gotten had I bought them at a shoe store. The arch support is better than most shoes. I need to wear orthotics in my sneakers but always have trouble with sandals. I can wear these for several hours without getting knee or back pain. I like these shoes so much I bought a second pair in a different color.”
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: 5
- Available sizes: 5 — 11
One reviewer wrote: “OMG! These are so comfortable! Great support, fits perfectly( I wear size 8) and relieve my back pain as I have degenerate scoliosis. I had wanted support slides that would allow me to walk a distance and these are it! I am so pleased with these that I ordered another pair.”
4. The Affordable Cork Sandals With 50,000+ 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: 21
- Available sizes: 5 — 13 (including select wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “These are the most comfortable sandals I have ever had. The style hides my bunions which makes them look nice on my feet. The straps are adjustable for a perfect fit. The size is exactly what is advertised. No foot or back pain wearing these sandals.”
5. A Great Supportive Flip-Flop
At first glance, these Vionic 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 podiatrist-designed to hug your arches for all-day support. For another, the thong strap is soft, so you don’t have to worry about gripping with your toes or getting blisters. Also unlike your average flip-flops, the heel is raised and cupped to support your natural gait.
- Available colors: 16
- Available sizes: 5 — 12
One reviewer wrote: “I love these shoes because they do what they are suppose to do. I have had three back surgeries. I found out about Vionic shoes over 15 years ago and decided to give them a try. They absolutely help alleviate a big portion of my back pain. I am unable to stand over 10 minutes without my Vionic shoes on.”
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
- Available sizes: 5 — 12 (including select 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 Skechers sandals offer 2.5 inches of lift, they still help to minimize back pain thanks to the contoured memory foam insoles. Their stretchy straps offer just enough give, so the sandals should hug your feet without feeling too tight.
- Available colors: 2
- Available sizes: 5 — 12 (including wide options)
One reviewer wrote: “I didn't know what to expect, with me have lower back pain issues...Well let me tell you, it was really comfortable and easy to walk in. The foam inside was like a nice pillow...Now I grab these as my [go-to] and they are simple but yet elegant enough to wear with anything.”
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: 17
- Available sizes: 5 — 11.5
One reviewer wrote: “ They are very comfortable and supportive to wear all day long, I can stand in them for 8 hours and have no foot or back pain. I also love that they are waterproof, I wear them gardening then just hose them off and they always come clean. They don't stretch out and are always a good fit. I found them high in price but after wearing them throughout the summer I would say they are 100% worth the price. I can tell they will have a long life span.”
9. Best (Less-Expensive) Flip-Flops
If you can’t sink $75 into a pair of flip-flops — even if you really want to — these orthotic sandals are an affordable alternative well worth considering. Their EVA midsoles are biomechanically contoured to hug your foot with extra stability and elevation through the heel in addition to serious arch support. Waterproof rubber soles keep you upright, while the grosgrain woven toe strap promises to feel soft right out of the box. They’re classic, casual, and unassuming: perfect to throw on and go.
- Available colors: 9
- Available sizes: 6 — 11
One reviewer wrote: “I have been dealing with significant plantar fasciitis pain and back pain for months. I wore these all day today and have had NO foot pain. I get between 10,000 - 15,000 steps at work and my feet are KILLING ME by the end of the day so this is AMAZING! My back pain has lessened as well. I am very encouraged! These are affordable and comfortable- wonderful find!”
10. A Modern Gladiator That Looks High-End
These Athlefit sandals look similar to the expert’s top pick, but they’re a more accessible option for people on a budget. The orthopedic sandals’ contoured footbeds include good arch support and a deep heel cup, with massage bubbles and a soft sueded finish. Their adjustable ankle straps keep your feet secure — with a smidge of elastic so they have just enough stretch. Add to all that a soft fabric toe post and chic faux leather uppers for a sandal that pretty much does it all.
- Available colors: 4
- Available sizes: 5.5 — 11
One reviewer wrote: “When I found out I was pregnant, I worried a lot about being on my feet all day with my job. [...] These sandals have been a lifesaver all summer. My feet have swelled like crazy but I don’t have to worry about it. If I wear any other shoes, my feet, back, and hips are killing me by the end of the day. With these, I never have any pain!”