Looking after children’s feet – preventing problems in the future
Proper care and treatment of the feet, beginning in childhood and infancy, will prevent many of the mechanical and orthopaedic problems that may be seen in adults. Many children walk excessively pigeon-toed, flat footed, or bowlegged and, although they are not in pain, they are damaging their feet. As we all know, it’s important to buy the right shoes for children, but according to some recent research that has been conducted by Clarks, there are still four million children in shoes that don't fit them.
However, poorly fitting shoes are not the only cause of later foot problems in children. There are numerous other foot problems that occur quite naturally, and often much earlier in their lives, and these include as examples the ones that are listed below.
• Most babies begin life with their toes pointing slightly outwards. However, if the unborn baby lies with its feet pressed against the womb the wrong way, it can even be born with its feet pointing inward. Tripping in infants and young children may be the first sign of toeing in.
• Many babies will naturally appear flatfooted, but as the infant begins to stand and walk this will normally disappear.
• Children with flat feet, low arches, may not be able to keep up with other children because of the strain that is added to their feet and legs.
• As a child masters walking, the medial arch begins to appear. All toddlers have flat feet because of a low angle of calcaneal inclination, but by 5 to 6 years this angle has increased, and in most cases a medial longitudinal arch becomes apparent.
• By around 6 years of age, a child should have normal arches in both feet. Children who appear flat-footed appear to have a normal arch, but flatten it when they stand. This movement is called “pronation” and it may cause painful symptoms and make the child tire easily.
In many cases orthotic insoles for children’s shoes may be useful to improve the child’s foot posture and they will also relieve painful symptoms. When a child with flat feet who is between the age of 6 and 10, a flexible flatfoot is confirmed. If a child is 10 or older, the flexible flatfoot can be considered permanent, and long-term use of orthotics will be required to prevent future problems in the feet, lower extremities and spine. This is especially true for overweight or athletically active youngsters.
The trip to the shoe shop and feet being measured is a common and memorable part of childhood, but as said earlier, there are still four million children in shoes that don't fit them.
Parents who squeeze their child's feet into the wrong-sized shoes could be condemning them to a lifetime of problems, from blisters, pressure sores and ingrowing toenails in the short-term, to feet deformities like hammer toe, and knee and posture problems in the much longer-term. The list goes on and on if one isn’t careful. It’s as important to take as much care of a child's feet as possible, just as we do with their teeth.
The experts say that neglect, budget constraints, convenience and fashion are all to blame, and for the following reasons:
• Few people realise the problems that ill-fitting shoes can cause
• People often opt for cheaper shoes for budget reasons
• Fashion trends often aren't very good for the feet
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 their adult form. So teenage feet need to be looked after as well as those of smaller children. According to the research, 10% of parents say their children have continued to wear shoes that are too small for them, and 50% admit to only buying new shoes when their children complain that their feet are hurting. Only 40% of parents are known to take into account whether the shoes on their offspring's feet were well fitting and supportive.
Another issue is money. Two fifths of parents admitted to buying shoes that were too big so their children could grow into them over time, saving money. When it came to actually purchasing footwear, a quarter of parents said they based their decision on the cost. This is false economy.
The rise of cheaper shoes, sold without expert advice and proper fitting in stores and supermarkets, has also had an impact. Not only do they cost less but they are often more convenient to buy than taking a child to a proper shoe shop for a fitting.
Fashion trends also sway one in ten parents. This is a particular problem among older children and teenagers – and often, fashionable shoes offer very little support. These shoes rarely come in half sizes or different widths, both of which are important for a shoe to fit properly.
Avoid cheap shoes, fads and fashion and head to a reliable and trusted supplier who will take the time to measure both feet. A good shoe retailer will not let you buy inappropriate footwear for your children as they want you to return again and again and are also very interested in the health of your child's foot!
Kids’ orthotic insoles are effective in the treatment of children with foot deformities. Most podiatric physicians recommend that children and infants with such foot deformities begin to use orthotics as soon as possible after they start walking, in order to stabilise the foot. Children’s orthotics can be placed directly into standard children’s shoes and also into various children’s sports or athletic shoes.