We hear all the time that barefoot is best- but many of us are left wondering why? Bobux’ Advisory Podiatrist Tracy Byrne gives us the answers!
Many of us are told that barefoot is best, but in this day and age almost all of us habitually wear shoes, and in some cases, it is a necessity- so what’s all the fuss about?! What we need to be aware of is the lasting damage shoes can do to feet if they are worn too early, or if they are not fitted correctly. It is imperative to ensure that children’s shoes not only fit correctly but that they are the correct type of shoe to allow for a child’s full range of movement.
Children’s feet are made of soft cartilage, which is easily compressible (and damaged by shoes which are too narrow, ridged or short). Unfortunately, in many cases, children don’t feel the pain of ill-fitting footwear until the damage is already done!
- When walking barefoot we receive a continuous stream of information about the ground, and can accurately feel where they are in relation to it. Children who wear ridged shoes have their feet trapped in an unchanging environment. The sensation of walking is muted, not used and un-listened to, which can cause walking difficulties or posture issues, which may not be realised until early adulthood!
- Long-term wear of shoes- especially ill-fitting ones can cause damage to the muscles, joints, nerves and structures within the foot.
- The circulatory function is improved because the motion you get from an unrestricted foot activates a whole lot of muscles in your feet and legs, which help pump blood back up to your heart. This action prevents the pooling of blood in your feet and legs. This muscle activation is not as effective if your foot is confined in a shoe- especially if it’s a poorly fitting shoe.
It’s as simple as this: imagine putting heavy leather mittens on an infant’s hands from the first months of life, leather mittens which fit snugly, so that the child’s fingers are pressed together so tightly they can hardly move. The mittens are kept on their hands all day and are taken off only for sleeping at night or for naps in the afternoon and baths once a day. When they wake in the morning, you immediately put cotton mittens on their hands and place the heavier leather mittens snugly over their fingers once again, day after day.
After two years, during which time the child has hardly ever had the chance to wiggle their fingers we expect them to begin holding a spoon and a cup, the child is unable to do it because all those complex muscles which should have been developing are undeveloped and unused.
By allowing children to go barefoot as often as possible, children gain;
- Greater flexor strength, better ability to spread their toes.
- Increased development of the muscles and ligaments of the lower limbs, and naturally strengthens foot arches.
- Improves children’s awareness of where they are in relation to the ground (proprioception).
- Denser, stronger muscles on the soles of their feet
- Improved agility
- Improved posture
- A wider range of hip circumnavigation, more flexibility of the gluteal and hamstring muscles which leads to greater all-round flexibility.
In today’s society, however, footwear is a necessity due both to customs and underfoot hazards – try sending your kids to school barefoot! But that doesn’t mean narrow, stiff-soled, over-cushioned shoes are necessary. No matter what your stance on minimal footwear, it makes sense that we should let the body develop normally. And we’ve got a few million years of data to support that”.
What to look for when choosing shoes for Children
- Once your child is walking outdoors on rough surfaces protect their feet with lightweight shoes made from soft leather, which mimics the shape and functionality of the foot.
- Shoes are not necessary for support or development of the arch.
- For toddlers, shoes should be as flexible as possible, and the soles should be as flat as possible to allow children to receive sensory feedback from the ground.
- Children’s feet are wider at the toe than at the heel, and more often than not children’s shoes are designed as miniature versions of adult shoes- who have a completely different foot shape!
- It’s best to get shoes specifically designed for children’s feet and get them fitted by a professional.
But remember barefoot is best! When appropriate let your children run around in bare feet, and whenever you get the chance take your shoes off and allow your feet to function as nature intended!
Dr Lynn Staheli MD
Janet Perry M.P.T
Mark Cucuzzella MD FFAFP
Dr Simon J Wickler D.S.C
Dr Steve Bloor