Foot care is important through all stages of life. For children, it is necessary to take extra care with foot health to avoid problems and deformities in later life. In the UK, The College of Podiatry, the academic authority on feet, estimate that around 4 million children wear ill-fitting footwear. The College of Podiatry wants to promote the importance of caring for your child’s feet from their very first steps, to their last day of school.
Babies and Toddlers
Most children take their first steps between the ages of nine and eighteen months. Once a child can take these unaided strides, then they are ready for their first pair of real shoes. One of the most crucial, yet simple, steps to aiding healthy feet is ensuring children are wearing well-fitting and appropriate footwear. When looking for a child’s first shoes, it is important to find a trained fitter.
The College of Podiatry recommends ensuring shoes have the following features:
- Room for movement and growth built in
- Close cropped soles to prevent tripping
- Soft uppers for cool comfortable feet
- Lightweight, flexible sole to aid walking development
- Whole and half sizes and a choice of widths to find the right fit
- Fully adjustable fastenings
- Padded ankle for protection and support
If you are concerned about your child’s walking, see a podiatrist, GP or health visitor for advice. Things to look out for include if your child hasn’t started walking after 18 months, and if their feet are turned out during walking. These things are often nothing, but can be clues if there are problems.
When children begin school, it is still very much important to inspect shoes for any unusual wear, and to seek professional advice if there is concern. Unusual wear may be the first indication that there is a problem with the posture of the foot or with your child’s posture in general, and so should always be investigated by a registered podiatrist. Emma Supple, consultant podiatrist and member of The College of Podiatry says, “Often, the wear is across the back of the heel or between the back and the outside. Things to look out for are severe shoe wear on the inside or outside of the heel, or the heel may even be broken.”
As children continue to grow, it is important to ensure your child’s shoes grow with them. Emma Supple suggests, “Always have your child’s feet measured for length and width before purchasing new footwear, and check sock sizes regularly to make sure they are not too tight on the feet. It is a good idea to check your child’s feet on a regular basis to keep an eye on any symptoms such as inflamed tissue around the nails, red pressure marks on the top of toe joints, below the ankle and at the back of the heel as these could be attributed to ill-fitting shoes.”
Advice from The College of Podiatry for parents when choosing shoes for children:
- Adequate length and width: All children’s footwear should be measured for length and width and fitted by an appropriately trained shoe fitter. If fitting is not available, or is refused, go elsewhere.
- Broad base of heel: This should be as wide as the heel to give stability, and be made of a shock-absorbing material.
- Height of heel: This should ideally flat, but be no more than a quarter of an inch
- Toe area shape: This should be foot shaped and not pointed.
- Holding the foot in the shoe: it is important that the shoe is kept on the foot by laces, Velcro or ‘T’ bar, which acts like a seatbelt in a car, holding the shoe onto the foot. This helps to prevent toe deformities, as lack of support to keep the shoe on the foot can allow the foot to slide up and down in the shoe and damage the toes or cause the toes to claw to help keep the shoe on. This is a particular problem with the current fashion of not tying shoelaces.
- Material: leather is the best material for the uppers of kids’ shoes, it’s flexible and soft but hard wearing. It also lets air in but keeps moisture out, meaning feet stay cool and dry in most conditions. Nubuck, suede and other soft fabrics are different types of leather and share most of the benefits. Avoid shoes with uppers made of other materials (synthetics and plastics) as these are often hard, inflexible and won’t allow your children’s feet to breathe.
- Adequate depth of toe area: This is particularly important in individuals with a big toe that curls up at the end and helps to avoid toenail problems.
School often equates to more energetic activity, so it is important to ensure that the correct footwear is worn. For P.E and sports, try to avoid the use of plimsolls every day and opt for fitted trainers with laces or Velcro fastening to avoid blisters or sores developing. Leading an active lifestyle also means that it is vital to regiment a hygiene routine daily which includes washing feet daily with simple soap and water and drying thoroughly. Good hygiene will help in avoiding conditions such as athlete’s foot.
Another foot complaint that children often experience in their feet are growing pains, particularly in the heel which is known as ‘Severs heel’. This can be very painful after sport and usually occurs between the ages of 8-13. If your child complains of foot pain, see a podiatrist for advice.
It’s worth remembering that teenagers in particular can be secretive about foot problems. This means that trivial issues that can be easily rectified often become more serious when neglected. For example, ingrown toenails can develop into serious infections if not treated properly. Toenails should be inspected regularly and trimmed as required. A good investment is a pair of nail clippers from your local podiatry clinic or chemist. Never cut down the side of nails or cut them too short. When cutting, follow the contours of the nail at the tip of the toe and always leave the corner of nail just clear of the fleshy part of the toe.
Children, and in particular teenage boys, have naturally sweaty feet, but smelly feet may be an indication of poor hygiene. Again, at this point in life it is essential to wash and dry feet properly and regularly. . For particularly sweaty feet, try spraying feet with a little antiperspirant spray.
It is easy to think about fashion over functionality when an impressionable teenager, but many retailers now produce shoes which look good and care for your feet.
Foot pain is not normal. If you or your child experience pain then see your podiatrist.
To talk to a podiatrist (also known as a chiropodist) about the options available regarding treatment, you can contact an NHS podiatrist or a private practice podiatrist. In both cases, always ensure that any practitioners you visit are registered with the Health Professionals Council (HPC) and describe themselves as a podiatrist (or chiropodist).
Visit www.feetforlife.org for more information about foot health for all ages and to find a registered podiatrist near you.