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Children’s Feet: Solemates For Life


Is size the only difference between a child’s foot and an adult’s foot?

No, infant and toddler feet are not miniature reproductions of adult feet. Shape is different. The widest distance in a toddler’s feet is across the toes, whereas in adults it’s across the ball of the foot where it bends.

What’s a typical child’s foot shape?  My child appears to have flat feet.

The infant foot has a square toe shape and narrow heel; it’s plumper and softer with the arch area filled and padded with fatty tissue. That’s what gives the illusion of a flat foot. The arch will become more defined with exercise as the child grows.

Are there any bones in an infant’s foot?

Tiny dots of bone growth centres are present in only 3 foot bones at birth. There is very little hard bone in the very young foot – just soft gristle and cartilage. The cartilage takes up to 21 years to develop and harden into the 26 bones (plus two sesamoid bones) in a fully formed adult foot.

What is the significance of lack of bone in a toddler’s foot?

Feet that are mostly cartilage with little hard bone make a child’s foot delicate and vulnerable to the pressure of ill-fitting shoes, especially in the early years of growth.  The lack of bone means that a child is unlikely to complain about an ill-fitting shoe, simply because he or she will not feel sufficiently uncomfortable.


Why is foot care and shoe choice so important? 

Many foot problems are very easily fixed but if they are neglected, can cause life-long problems. Remember that when young people eventually have aspirations of a future job or activity that requires them to be on their feet all day, good foot health will be very important.

What’s important when buying children’s and teenager’s shoes? 

  • Length: Closed shoes should be approximately 12-16 mm longer than the longest toe, 8mm for sandals.
  • Width: Adequate width: you should be able to grip a slight fold of the upper between your thumb and index finger when the shoe is secured on your child’s foot.
  • Heel height: 0 mm (zero mm!) heels to 6mm for younger children like toddlers through to primary school.
    N.B. Avoid heels higher than 15 mm for teenagers to prevent possible bone deformity, muscle imbalances, incorrect development and potential problems with spinal alignment.
  • Heel type: Broad base for stability and made from shock absorbing material and/or design.
  • Uppers: Natural material uppers and linings are best, e.g. leather.
  • Toe shape: The toe area of the shoe should be foot shaped.
  • Toe depth: Deep enough toe area to allow all toes to move freely and not be squashed. Ask the child to wriggle all their toes in the shoes – if unable to, go the next size up.
  • Fastening: Shoes should be held on the foot with laces, straps or Velcro fastenings across the top of the foot, and a closed heel or heel strap across the back of the foot.
  • Sole: Must be very easily flexible, to at least 55º in the ball of the foot area.
  • Lightweight: Infants 30g, Toddler 110g, Child and Adolescent under 220g per shoe.

What style of shoe is best?

Either a style that grips across the top (instep) of the foot and across the back of the heel OR low across the toes but combined with an ankle strap and fastening across the back of the heel.

Avoid backless styles as they force the foot and toes to curl to keep the shoe from falling off. With time, this unnatural muscle action can cause hammer toes or foot imbalances.
The objective is to have a shoe that follows the foot in any movement in space without needing effort from the foot to keep it on.

What should I avoid when buying children’s and teenager’s shoes? 

  • Heel height: Heels higher than 1.5 cm under age 16 can lead to developmental deformities.
  • Heel type: Little stiletto or narrow heels interfere with natural foot biomechanical development.
  • Uppers: Avoid plastic shoes for everyday use as they can promote risk of infection; also avoid plastic shoes that do not have a functioning back strap. Plastic shoes are fine for the beach only.
  • Toe shape: Avoid any toe shape that does not match the outline shape of the foot.
  • Toe depth: Avoid if child is unable to wriggle toes, especially the little toe in the shoes.
  • Shoe style: Avoid slip on or backless styles such as flip flops. These alter muscle action and affect development.
    (Toes scrunch up to keep the thongs on the foot – this can lead to a foot muscle imbalance). For toddlers and young children, avoid flip flops or thong sandals as the thong could affect the cartilage and growth centres of the metatarsal joints between the big toe and the second toe.
  • Sole type: Avoid all rigid or hard, inflexible soled shoes. These affect foot and leg muscle development since they compromise natural foot muscle action.

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