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Buying Athletic Shoes For Children

Making Sure Shoe Fits Prevents Foot Deformities

Buying shoes for your child that fit properly is extremely important.  Unfortunately, a recent study found that a majority of kids wear shoes that are too small, which put them at risk for developing serious foot deformities, such as bunions.  

If the shoe fits

Dr. Carol Frey, Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at UCLA and Chief of Foot and Ankle Surgery at West Coast Sports Performance in Manhattan Beach, California, says parents should remember the following when shopping for their children's shoes:
  • Shop at the end of the day: Shop when your child's feet are at their largest (either at the end of the day, or after a run or sporting event).
  • Measure both feet, standing up: Measure your child's feet when they are standing up bearing their full weight. Measure both feet in case they vary in size. Choose the shoes that fit the larger foot.  
  • Measure and fit with sports-specific socks. Your child should be wearing the specific sock that he will ultimately wear with the shoes. Note: This is a reversal of the normal fitting process in most athletic shoe stores, where socks are purchased as an "add-on" after shoes have been fitted.
  • Allow for wiggle room: There should be a half-inch from the end of the longest toe to the end of the shoe so that your child is able to wiggle all of her toes. Don't press with your thumb on the greater toe to estimate fit because it activates a reflex that causes your child to curl the bigger toe, giving the wrong impression that there is enough space. In an ideal world, the length of the shoe should exceed the actual length of your child's foot by at least 10 millimeters to ensure that enough space is provided for the greater and lesser toes.
  • Lace the shoes properly: For maximum support, use the top eyelet on the shoe and run the laces through twice for a snugger fit. Don't tie the laces too tightly, as that can cause injury to nerves and tendons on the top of the foot.
  • Check for snug heels: If the heels don't fit snuggly, they will pull up out of the shoe (pistoning) and your child will be more likely to get blisters.
  • Have you child walk in the shoes: Allow your child some time to walk around the store in the shoes and ask them how the shoes feel. When she takes them off, check her feet for any red spots or areas of irritation. Inspect the inside of the shoe for any extra material, glue or irregular stitching, which may cause chafing.
  • Expect immediate comfort: Most importantly, the shoes should be comfortable right away. Shoes shouldn't need to be "broken in" to feel right.

Remember: younger children may not be able to tell you how a shoe fits and feels. They may simply say something hurts, with few details. It is important to ask, since they may not offer the information. In some cases, the pain may be the result of something as small as some extra fabric inside or socks bunching up. In very young children, whose feet tend to be thicker across the top, shoes may appear to fit because the toes have room, but still be too tight through the bridge of the foot or cause your child's toes to be scrunched up inside.

Selecting the right shoe also means picking the right kind of shoe:

  • The best materials: Leather, suede and canvas are the most durable and breathable materials for athletic shoes. Synthetic materials don't allow the foot to "breathe" and may even contribute to skin diseases and foot odor.
  • Choose the proper shoe for a particular sport: Shoes are designed specifically based on the demands of that sport. For instance, running shoes are designed for forward movement and have extra cushioning, while tennis shoes are meant to support side-to-side motion

Selecting cleats

Cleats can cause problems in young players, especially ages 9-13, when there are not enough cleats on the heel. This can lead to excess pressure and heel pain. Look for shoes with multiple cleats on the heel to help alleviate this problem. In order to reduce knee and ankle injuries, it may help to choose shoes with shorter cleats on them, no more than a half inch long for younger players.

If the shoe doesn't fit 

Poor fitting shoes can cause a number of problems, explains Dr. Frey. The increased pressure may lead to:

  • Blisters
  • Curling or clawing of the toes
  • Bunions
  • Corns
  • Calluses
  • Pinched nerves
  • Ingrown toenails.

Besides causing pain and discomfort that can affect athletic performance, the wrong size shoes can result in foot problems and cause further injuries down the road.

If your child has foot pain that persists 12 hours after she takes off her shoes, you should see a doctor in case there is a potentially more serious problem.

Orthotics: popular but unnecessary?

While orthotics (shoe inserts prescribed by orthopedists or podiatrists) are the latest rage, Dr. Frey feels that in most casesthey are unnecessary. Given the quality design of most shoes today, and assuming you buy the proper shoe for your child and get a correct fit, you don't need to spend money for orthotics.

Children who are likely to benefit the most from orthotics, says Dr. Frey, are those who:
  • Over-pronate (their feet tip in)
  • Have flat feet (Note, however, that a new study has raised serious questions about whether orthotics are necessary for flat feet or that they will help athletic performance).
  • Have shin splints, or
  • Are experiencing arch pain or strain

For children needing extra ankle support, look for shoes with good heel stability. "People with high arches tend to have more ankle sprains/rolls, and need a stable shoe like a high top or high profile shoe," explains Dr. Frey.


Most recently updated March 29, 2012

 

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