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Rocker bottom shoes can ease chronic low back pain

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Shoes with a “rocker” bottom — a thicker-than-normal sole with a rounded heel — can be beneficial for people suffering from chronic low back pain, new research shows.

Researchers at Valencia’s CEU Cardenal Herrera university found that unstable shoes improve the strength of back muscles in order to maintain balance and stability when walking. This muscular strengthening contributes to reducing low-intensity chronic low back pain.

The results of the study, led by CEU UCH teachers Juan Francisco Lisón and Pablo Salvador, have been published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation.

“Patients with chronic low back pain are usually advised to perform exercises to strengthen the muscles in their back, which improve stability of the spine in the lower back area, although it is always hard to make sure they comply with this type of exercises,” Salvador said. “What this new study shows is that the use of unstable shoes for several hours during a patient’s day-to-day life, without any other specific exercises, effectively contributes to the muscular strengthening of their back and improves the degree of curvature of the spine in the lumbar area, thus helping to reduce chronic pain.”

The study included 40 adults with low-intensity chronic low back pain, half of whom wore shoes with curved soles for four weeks and the other half wore their normal shoes.

Researchers evaluated the degree of activation of the back muscles that stabilise the lumbar area. They also evaluated the curvature degree of the lower spine while wearing rocker bottom shoes, compared to ones with flat soles.

The results revealed a significant decrease in disability in the unstable shoes group compared to the control group. This is thought to be related to increased trunk muscle activity and lumbar spine range of motion.

The findings “have allowed us to confirm that everyday use of rocker bottom shoes for several hours a day reduces the disability suffered by patients with chronic low back pain,” the researchers said.