It is the season for shoe shopping for thousands of parents across the country as their children prepare for their new year at school.
However, according to a recent study more than a quarter of British children are wearing shoes that could be damaging their feet.
Nearly 30% of children were found to be wearing shoes that are completely the wrong size.
The survey of 2,000 parents, by The College of Podiatry, also found 55% suffer blisters, bruises and calluses from unsuitable shoes.
It is worrying that so many children are wearing unsuitable shoes which provide no support or plainly do not fit them. We are seeing more and more young children with conditions that can be ascribed to ill-fitting footwear.
These ranging from blisters, rubbing, bruising and calluses to longer term problems with foot development resulting in musculoskeletal issues in the future.
The survey showed that 56% of parents have bought their children shoes without having their feet measured and working on guess-work alone.
More than a third (38%) of parents also said they hand down shoes to younger children without being sure they fit properly.
Girls were found to be at the greatest risk of long-term damage to their feet.
Nearly a quarter of parents (22%) said they felt pressure to buy their daughters “fashionable” shoes such as ballet pumps, flip-flops and high heels.
The researchers found almost one in ten young girls wear shoes with a heel of 2cm or higher and, on average, they wear these types of shoes as young as six years old.
It is vital that the shoes that children wear are fit for purpose and that they fit them well as they are still growing and developing. The length and also the width at the toes also requires consideration; too narrow and they can force the toes in on themselves causing overlapping and subsequent sore spots.
The College of Podiatry recommends parents have their children’s feet measured and their everyday shoes fitted by a professional.
Young children (aged one to three) should have their feet measured approximately every eight weeks, and older children, every three to four months.
Children’s feet tend to grow rapidly in the first four years of their life, but it can take up to 18 years for the foot’s bones, muscles and ligaments to harden into adult form. So teenage feet need to be looked after as well as those of smaller children.
There are checks that parents can do at home to make sure their child’s shoe fits properly:
There should be no more than a 14mm gap between the big toe and end of a shoe in a new pair.
Anything less than 8mm and it’s time to visit the shoe shop and get another pair.
When it comes to width, the shoe should be supporting the foot, not squeezing it.
Children’s problems range from typical “fallen arches”, in-toed gait patterns, knock knees and bow legs, to pain and dysfunction caused by conditions such as Severs Disease. Spending time barefoot is beneficial for growing feet and shoes that offer support are vital.
For the very young, barefoot walking, on a safe, clean environment, is to be encouraged in order to help develop muscle strength and stability. As children get older and walk more outside on harder surfaces, footwear becomes imperative in order to protect the foot from the risk of injury. So good advice for children shoes are to always look for a reasonably stiff shank, flexible toe area, a small heel lift and a method of attaching the shoe to the foot such as laces or straps.
This is important, particularly for back-to-school footwear. Fashion may well be king, but the trend towards soft flexible footwear with open or no laces is causing untold damage to kids’ feet.
There are signs that parents can look out for.
Often children will complain of foot or leg pain when walking and redness on the joints of the toes where friction from the shoe has irritated the skin as the toes grip to hold the shoe in place.
Pain reported by children is often dismissed as growing pains, however persistent pain should always be checked by an appropriately qualified professional such as a podiatrist with experience in this area.
What to look for in a children’s shoe:
- Adequate length and width: All children’s footwear should be measured for length and width, and fitted by an appropriately trained shoe fitter.
- Broad base of heel: This should be as wide as the heel to give stability, and be made of a shock-absorbing material.
- Height of heel: You are looking for a slight heel to provide sufficient shock absorption, ideally around a quarter of an inch. Completely flat shoes such as ballet pumps provide little shock absorption but heels of 2cm of higher can shorten calf muscles leading to potential achilles tendon problems in the future.
- Toe area shape: This should be foot shaped and not pointed, or excessively tapered.
- Holding the foot in the shoe: It is important that the shoe is kept on the foot by laces, Velcro or ‘T’ bar, which acts like a seatbelt in a car, holding the shoe onto the foot. This helps to prevent toe deformities, as lack of support to keep the shoe on the foot can allow the foot to slide up and down in the shoe and damage the toes or cause the toes to claw to help keep the shoe on.
- Support: The shoe should offer sufficient support for the foot. The shoe should not bend or crumple excessively. Plimsolls and ballet-pump shoes are examples that bend too easily.
- Adequate depth of toe area: This is particularly important in individuals with a big toe that curls up at the end and helps to avoid toenail problems.
- Material: Leather is the best material for kids’ shoes as it is flexible and soft, but hard-wearing. It also lets air in but keeps moisture out, meaning feet stay cool and dry in most conditions. Avoid shoes which are largely made of other materials (synthetics and plastics).
If you are concerned about your child’s walking or feet, make an appointment to see us at ProPodiatry Cheltenham or Tewkesbury or a HCPC-registered podiatrist in your area. GP or health visitor for advice. Visit www.feetforlife.org for more information and to find a registered HCPC podiatrist near you.