We have the privilege of treating lots of kids and families here at Sole Motion Podiatry, and as a result, get asked quite a few common questions around kids and their feet. So we thought we’d answer a few of these for everyone to read, starting with SHOULD young kids & toddlers be wearing shoes and if so, which ones are best?
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The answer: This is actually a much discuss (and often debated) topic. While good high-topped footwear does help support and stabilise the foot and ankle, in our opinion, it really does depend on the age of the child.
Pre-walking age – Before your little one starts walking, soft, flexible shoes outdoors and socks/bare feet indoors are absolutely fine. The bones at this age are still very soft and the feet are very flexible. Muscles are still very much developing and babies function very much on their response to touch and sensation. This is why it’s good for them to be able to feel what’s going on beneath their feet through softer materials and as they crawl, begin to stand while supporting themselves and ultimately begin to walk. Their balance, coordination and stability will be at the very early stages too, so the function of footwear here is really to protect their feet (from things like the cold or getting any cuts or grazes) as opposed to working to help their foot function.
Just starting to walk – The above is also true for toddlers that have just started walking. The function of footwear is not to support good biomechanical function of the feet and legs, because they’ve just started developing the muscles and strength that’ll help them achieve this. You want to protect their feet while they get better at balance, stability and start strengthening their little feet and legs. Flexible shoes will help them do that and create a similar surface inside and outside of the shoe for them to get used to. It also means that shoes won’t weigh down a child’s foot, which may encourage tripping and make it more difficult to walk.
The first few years of walking (up to the age of four or five years) – Here, kids will be spending much more time playing outside and on a variety of surfaces. The goal of shoes here is to protect their feet while they’re out and about without weighing their feet down or making them more likely to trip or fall. We’re trying to find a balance between more stability, while still maintaining some flexibility and not getting into a ‘rigid’ or ‘firm’ shoe just yet. Materials like rubber on the bottom help prevent slips and still remain flexible while being slightly firmer. Shoes that cover the toes are also recommended, to prevent the toes from scraping along the ground and grazing. Ensuring the shoes aren’t too tight is also very important due to the rate of growth of the feet and their flexibility, meaning tight shoes can make for curly toes much quicker than you may think!
Starting to confidently walk, run and play (5+ years) – At this age, the goal of footwear is to support, stabilise and help the foot (working with the foot) during all sorts of activities and sports. By this age, kids will have developed a good sense of stability, coordination and strength – and they’ll only be getting better and stronger every day! Their footwear will be more firm and supportive, helping to keep the foot and ankle in a good position so they can keep going and going. We recommend shoes that have good support around the ankle and cover the toes. Sizing is also important to stay on top of, to reduce the risk of injury, damage to the feet, and abnormal toe shapes (and bunions for that matter) as the feet grow. There are plenty of fantastic shoe stores that will help fit shoes perfectly to your kids feet, use good materials and are very knowledgeable about the shoes they have in stock. These include:
Exceptions – There are a few exceptions to the rules, such as young children that have foot deformities such as significant in-toeing, clubfoot, or various other paediatric pathologies. In these cases, your child may need slightly firmer shoes (and likely orthotics) to help guide the growth and development of the foot into a normal and healthy pattern. Your podiatrist will discuss this with you during your appointment if this applies to you.
We hope this has answered your question and given you some insight into kids shoes & feet through the early ages! If you’re worried about your kids feet or would like them checked, don’t hesitate to bring them in to our expert team here at Sole Motion Podiatry – we LOVE helping kids be their healthy and happy selves! We’re also parents too, so understand the concerns and challenges you may have. You can book online here or 1300-FX-FEET.