Monday, July 16, 2012

Walking Shoes

The big debate continues regarding whether or not babies/new walkers should wear shoes.  It's easy to see why most parents are confused with mixed messages from commercials, stores, doctors, friends, family members and therapists!  I wanted to weigh-in on where I stand with this issue from a professional view.

Bottom line, "walker" style shoes are not necessary!

In my career, I have never once recommended this "type" of shoe to a patient.  And, I cannot think of an instance that a typically developing child would require the amount of support that these shoes supply.

So, where does that leave us?  Current research suggests that barefoot is best for new walkers.  Being barefoot allows the child to weight bear without support and assist in foot and ankle development.  Walking without shoes will promote strengthening of the ankle and foot musculature.  As a child toddles, looses their balance and catches it again, the body will learn to make necessary adjustments in balance and muscle activation.  As a child grows and continues to walk, their arches will naturally develop.  
*It is completely typical for a new walker to have flat feet.  The arches do not fully develop until close to 7 years of age!*

What about walking outside of the home?  Community outings are a great time to introduce shoes to your child.  For the typically developing child (child without an underlying diagnosis, no complaints of pain or frequent falls) there are a lot of options for shoes.  I like to recommend a shoe that either has laces, velcros or buckles.  Most importantly, the child should not have to work to keep the shoes on.  For example, croc-style shoes or flip flops are challenging to walk in, as the child has to squeeze their toes to keep their foot in. See the following examples of good choices for young toddlers:

 **Please note, these are not brand specific, just examples of positive shoe choices for toddlers**

For the child that does frequently fall - I recommend a discussion with the pediatrician and likely a referral to a physical therapist to rule out underlying reasons.  But, a great starting point is a solid pair of tennis shoes. I find it best to avoid fully mesh-style shoes as they won't give the foot any extra support.  New Balance brand is my favorite, but certainly not necessary.  I've seen great tennis shoes at both Wal-Mart and Target.  Something similar to this:
*Note that this shoe does have mesh, but is leather along the base and sides - where most children need added support*

As a mom,  I understand the confusion that surrounds purchasing your child's first few pairs of shoes.  There are so many options and conflicting views. So, I recommend allowing your child to gain strength by going barefoot indoors and then try to make smart, sensible choices for outdoor shoe wearing.

Please let me know if you have a favorite brand of shoes that you found for your new walker!  I'd love some to add to my list of recommendations.

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