The children's shoe industry has been around for over a century and represents almost 20% of the 60 billion dollar U.S. market. Yet, many experts agree children's shoes do more damage to the growing foot than they do to protect them . Kid's shoes are cute, clever and quite corrupting. At best a child's footwear will protect their feet from getting dirty and at worst it will permanently deform their foot, promote faulty posture, produce an unnatural gait and decrease brain development. Children's Footwear Myths:
Shoes need to be a snug fit: This doesn't allow for the elastic movement of the foot and toes to work as they are meant to function. Furthermore, the tightness can reshape the cartilageand change the actual shape of the foot!
Heel support and lift is needed for protection: look at your child's shoe. Is the heel higher (and thicker) than the the toe? If so, and it probably is, this will adaptively shorten their Achilles tendon and calf musculature...this can be permanent.
Pronation protection: Pronation is normal! Overpronation is quite subjective and has been seen to dissipate while walking or running barefoot. Let their little cute ankles get stronger by moving through a full natural range of motion.
Leaving room in the shoe for their little feet to grow (or being too cheap and buying a size up thinking they'll grow into it):When they are running around and suddenly stop their tootsies get slammed up against the front of the shoe causing ingrown toenails and worse the beginning of hammer toes and bunions.
Ever try to put a shoe on a baby or the even the family pet? They can hardly remove the offending shoe or booty fast enough. It is actually quite funny endeavor to watch. This is a message about our instinct to be barefoot. In fact, studies show barefoot children learn to walk more quickly and have less falls than their shod counterparts. Until about age 10, most children still have soft, malleable feet. Not to mention they are getting larger all the time and literally pushing up through the seams. Kids’ feet are not just smaller versions of ours; they tend to be wider across the toes and mostly cartilage (which is gradually replaced by bone). Children’s footwear is modeled to be smaller versions of adult ones. Some manufauturers make high heels for kids!
Most shoe companies design shoes with pre-defined shapes and overlook the natural architecture of the human foot. This is especially true when it comes to shoes for kids. Rigid and malformed shoes directly effect how a child’s foot bones and arch will shape. Our toes are supposed to be spread out, almost in a “v” shape. Instead most of us have crunched and smooshed in feet with little or no independent control of our toes. Our feet become the shape of the shoes we wear.
The soles of our feet and toes contain over 200,000 nerve endings that serve to tell our brain about our environment in order to balance the body, know where and how hard to step down and provide it with accurate information regarding proprioception. The foot brain connection is vital for equilibrium, gait, and dynamic/passive stability. The sensory blindfold of a thick soled shoe confuses the entire connection. A congenially shod child will never properly develop this brain foot connection and will suffer from functionally weak and under-performing feet, unnatural gaits and faulty postural skills.
For a variety of reasons, sneaker companies are always convincing us to buy snug fitting shoes for our toddlers (and us). A growing child’s foot will get all of its developmental requirements satisfied by simply playing, jumping and running without shoes.
When my son isn't running around barefoot, he rocks a pair VIVOBAREFOOT minimalist shoes. While wearing shoes he hardly ever wears socks because he like to feel the ground (socks provide one more layer of foot tightness and distance from the earth) . He also wears "zero drop" sandals like Huraraches or scuba socks. In looking for shoes it is important to find a pair that has no heel, thin soles, lightweight and a big toe box. Let your child's feet feel the ground and function like they have evolved to move and work. There is nothing like being a kid and running barefoot through the grass...
Interesting research and reviews of shoe wearing children:
Udaya B. Rao, Benjamin Joseph, (1992) “The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot: A survey of 2,300 children”, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Vol. 74‚ No. 4. pages 525-527.
Findings: An Elevated heel of any height on a child’s shoe shortens the Achilles tendon. This marks the beginning of permanent tendon shortening. Flat foot was most common in children who wore closed-toe shoes, less common in those who wore sandals or slippers, and least in the unshod. The study suggest that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal longitudinal arch.
Staheli LT, (1991) "Shoes for Children: A Review", Pediatrics, 88(2):371-375.
Optimum foot development occurs in the barefoot environment. 2. The primary role of shoes is to protect the foot from injury and infection. 3. Stiff and compressive footwear may cause deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility. 4. The term "corrective shoes" is a misnomer. 5. Shock absorption, load distribution, and elevation are valid indications for shoe modifications. 6. Shoe selection for children should be based on the barefoot model. 7. Physicians should avoid and discourage the commercialization and "media"-ization of footwear. Merchandising of the "corrective shoe" is harmful to the child, expensive for the family, and a discredit to the medical profession.
The NY TIMES (Aug. 14, 1991): Children with the healthiest and most supple feet are those who habitually go barefoot. Studies of developing nations show that non-shoe-wearers have better flexibility and mobility, stronger feet, fewer deformities, and less complaints than those who wear shoes regularly. When a child must wear a shoe, it should be lightweight, flexible, shaped more or less quadrangularly, and above all, should not have the arch supports and stiff sides once deemed necessary to give the foot support. Many pediatric orthopedists strongly oppose "corrective" or "orthopedic" shoes for straightening foot and leg deformities like flat feet, pigeon toes, knock-knees, or bowlegs. Dr. Staheli and others contend that there is no evidence that corrective shoes correct anything, and that most of the supposed deformities correct themselves in almost all cases.
"The Pilbara Times", Australia (31 Jan 1980). "Care For Kids Then Care For Their Feet": Edited extracts from an interview with the president of the Australian Podiatry Association:
"[Children's] bones are soft cartilage, easily compressible, and they don't feel pain until the damage is done," said the president of The Australian Podiatry Association. "The effects of childhood foot damage can show up in posture and gait in the early twenties," the president said. "The inability for a person to stand for any length of time without stress can also be attributed to early foot problems. Shoes must take a lot of the blame for claw toes, under and over riding toes, bunions and ingrown toe nails, not to mention corns and callus. Australian children probably have broader feet now than they did ten years ago, because so many go barefoot. Between the ages of 7 and 12 years, growth is fairly rapid. Don't hesitate to let them be barefoot. It won't spread or flatten normal healthy feet as the foot only grows as long as the ligaments allow anyway. The majority of foot damage is preventable if parents take proper care of their children's feet by allowing them to grow naturally - barefootedly."