How to ensure toddlers have correct-fitting shoes
The right shoes are essential for your little one's growing feet. Martin Haines, chartered physiotherapist and biomechanics (the science of human movement) coach, is currently working with Start-rite Shoes to help parents keep their children's feet healthy. He shares his foot-tastic knowledge with Gurgle
1. What is the optimum age to get a baby's feet measured for the first time?
It's essential that children wear the right shoes as their feet develop, and as they are so mobile and unstable initially, to avoid future foot problems caused by wearing poorly fitting footwear. A soon as your baby is becoming more active, crawling and starting to stand, then it's important to get their feet measured for shoes, as they will very soon be wanting to walk on hard surfaces outside and you will want to protect their sensitive skin and developing bones and muscles as well encourage them to work properly. It's important that parents buy good quality first walking shoes for children.
Good quality first walking shoes must be a good fit for the child and be suited to the needs of their walking at this age. Look for companies that provide multi-width fittings in shapes that are designed especially for children, shaped like a child's foot and include growing room. At this young age, the nerves in babies feet are not fully developed and a child may not therefore realise, or indeed be able to say, that their feet are sore or squashed so they need footwear with sufficient room to grow.
The sole needs to be thick enough to prevent the foot from being damaged, for example when walking on stones, and to provide cushioning from solid ground surfaces such as concrete but must flex to at least a 90 degree angle to allow movement of the big toe joint. A choice of fastenings is important as both buckle and rip-tape fastenings allow for precise adjustment to help shoes to fit the feet properly and finally look for breathable linings which allow perspiration to escape through the surface of the shoe.
2. Can you advise how often parents should be getting their children's feet measured?
Staart-Rite recommended measuring your children's feet every 6 to 8 weeks to ensure they are wearing shoes that fit correctly. Wrongly fitted shoes can not only cause problems to the feet, but also in turn, to the developing bones, joint and muscles above.
3. What are the best style of shoes for babies?
The best style of shoe is one that is shaped like a child's foot and includes growing room. At this young age, the sensation in nerve endings in babies' feet have hardly developed at all so the child may not be able to tell you if their feet are sore or squashed, so they need footwear with sufficient room to grow. It sounds obvious, but some designs can be too pointed or have a 'swung' design which can harm delicate feet. As children's feet are a variety of shapes. Young children's shoes also have to be soft to encourage the development of the small muscles and other structures in their feet and to help develop balance and coordination. When out and about, children need a shoe that allows shock absorption but is still soft enough to allow the foot to move naturally while providing the foot with some protection.
4. Should babies be wearing shoes all day or is it advisable to let their feet be free for much of the day?
As the way we develop physically evolves with our changing environment, it's important to try to encourage our children to be as active as possible to make sure that they limit the risk of problems when they are older and to ensure a happy, healthy childhood. This includes encouraging movement on different surfaces and terrains. Children do not need to wear shoes inside, especially on soft carpet or rugs, or outside when playing on soft grass as this surface enables the small muscles in children's feet to develop in a natural way, without restriction and also encourages better balance and coordination. However, children should wear shoes on hard terrain outside including surfaces of tarmac, concrete, stone and cement. While our feet do provide their own shock absorption, they are not designed to work on hard surfaces like these. These types of surfaces have only recently been developed in evolutionary terms and so a small amount of extra cushioning is required from the shoe to protect their feet as their bones strengthen.
Start-rite Shoes has just launched www.healthylittlefeet.com dedicated to providing parents with information and advice on well-fitting footwear to help keep children's feet happy and healthy for life.