Runners, coaches, medical professionals, and now parents, are all realizing the benefits of allowing children to have proper natural foot motion.  According to the experts, parents should think twice before putting their kids in a pair of “good sturdy shoes.”  It seems that the smartest design that will ever be developed for injury free activity is the human foot itself.  Our feet are sensory organs that allow us to interact with our environment and to develop natural movement patterns. Studies suggest that shoes can interfere with that development. “Balance, stride length and stride width are all influenced by our ability to sense the surface we are landing on. The more “stuff ” between the foot and the ground the less ability we have to sense the landing surface.” says Paul Langer, D.P.M., chair of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine’s Shoe Committee.

Rob Conenello, D.P.M., international lecturer on podiatric sports medicine, advises putting children in the “most minimal shoe possible, and adding support if necessary.”The level of minimal that is possible will vary with the child and may vary as the child ages.”

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PARENTS: (Jonathan Beverly, Running Times Magazine, April 2010)

1) Encourage kids to go barefoot whenever possible: in the house, yard, parks, on the beach.

2) Buy the most minimal shoes appropriate for your child. Look for shoes that are flat, with low heels, little cushioning, flexible in all directions, light weight with lots of toe room. In early development, a child’s foot is widest across the toes.

3) Ensure all of your kids’ shoes are running-friendly. Kids don’t change into running shoes to run, they do it naturally throughout the day.

4) Add support only if necessary. Get an evaluation from a physiotherapist or podiatrist if your child shows signs of needing structural support.

5) Allow and encourage kids to run more like they do when they are very little: short bursts that end when fatigued, with a relaxed stride, at a variety of paces.

6) Encourage kids to participate in a wide variety of physical activities that build strength and flexibility.

7) Help kids stay at an appropriate weight through diet and activity.

Given what we’re learning about how minimal shoes can be beneficial to an adult’s running technique, efficiency and injury prevention, it makes sense that we should be starting our kids off on the right foot.

Sue Underhill is a registered physiotherapist and owner of Maximum Physiotherapy. She offers running assessments using video analysis and treadmill running and gives technique and footwear advice.   To book a running assessment at Maximum call 705-444-3600.