Lately I have seen more and more parents asking about soft soled shoe options for their children. While wearing soft soled shoes is common practice for babies and toddlers, it’s not as common for older children, so when I see someone interested in them I take notice. We try to keep all of our kids barefoot or in soft soled and/or minimalist shoes, and people often wonder why if the topic comes up. Other than the fact that I feel terrible for little ones trying to walk around in clunky, heavy shoes, I also know that there are a few great benefits to being barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes. My husband, who is a Physical Therapist, had done a little research on minimalist shoes, particularly for kids, so I asked him to write a post for us on the benefits.
One of the newest trends in running is the minimalist shoe/barefoot movement. Many runners that promote this movement state a couple of things:
1) It increases strength of the lower leg and will stretch the muscles more.
2) It provides a more natural stride and gait.
3) Balance and stability will improve as the foot is provided with more feedback of the surface and sensory input will increase over time.
Being a Physical Therapist, I was skeptical of this but decided to try this for myself. Although I was uncomfortable at first, I now love my barefoot shoes and wear them for exercising and work activities. Initially, my calves were sore and I felt they were difficult to run in, but I decided to stick it out for several months. Now I love the feel of them and wear them for exercising and have a dress pair for work. I feel more stable on my feet and actually feel that I have a quicker reaction time and are now less prone to ankle injuries such as a sprain. My only regret is wish that I had worn them when I was younger.
So how does this relate to kids?
Many doctors and podiatrists promote the idea that children should walk barefoot as much as possible, as they are still growing. Shoes, while they do cushion the feet, do not always promote proper foot development. Research has shown that as a foot develops, structure and functional changes of the foot may occur due to the constrictions and conformity of shoe wear. It has been promoted that as children develop, walking barefoot develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot, improves and maintains the normal arch of the foot, improves awareness of the foot in relation to the space around us, and encourages better posture. However, we still want to protect their feet when outside on rough ground etc. and minimalist/barefoot shoes provides this, while still providing the least amount of restriction possible.
My twins, who are 7, have cerebral palsy and my son has tone (tight muscles) in the right leg. It typically causes him to walk on his toes (on the right) due to the tone in his calf muscle. He has to wear a brace at night to stretch his calf out and it is recommended that he wear a brace during the day. He has mild cerebral palsy and so he functions at a high level. He loves to run, jump and play sports, and as he begins to get tired, he toe walks more. Typically shoes have a 5-7 millimeter lift on them, so when he was wearing a normal shoe we were already shortening his calf thus making it tighter. Minimalist shoes do not have this typical heel lift on it. After wearing barefoot shoes for myself I decided to place Cade in this type of shoe. Over time, his calf has become more flexible and I have also noticed that he does not toe walk as much.
Although barefoot shoes may not be a good fit for all adults, due to the fact that as we age our foot becomes more stiff and rigid and we may be more prone to injury if we drastically change our footwear, I do feel that all kids should be going barefoot or at least wearing a minimalist shoe when possible.
If you have any questions for either one of us, leave it in the comments!