As a pediatric physical therapist I am constantly asked what footwear I recommend for the summertime. There is a plethora of shoes to choose from for your little ones and with such variety, it can be easy to get confused. Happy footwear leads to happy feet.
It is important to let your baby’s feet develop naturally to ensure that he develops a proper arch. In an ideal world, barefoot is best. In reality, we are barefoot through the first year of life, and early walking shoes provide little support in order to allow for natural development.
A shoeless world is not realistic because we have to protect our feet from the environment. A great many of our children have low muscle tone and loose ligaments in their feet; this manifests as a lack of arch development and therefore a lack of stability up through the leg. If you want to build a strong house, you need a strong foundation, which is essentially what our foot arch does for our entire leg and body.
It is essential that our children have shoes that allow for natural development. Shoes with built up arches typically include sneakers and a VERY small selection of summer sandals. These shoes are essential for our children with low muscle tone and/or loose ligaments. Floppy or “mushy” muscle tone can mean weaker muscles; although, not all of the time. If there is a weakness in the foot, then external support is critical to ensure a strong and stable base for your child. For example, flip flops do not provide adequate support for your children. Yes they are comfy. Yes they are fashionable, but most of them do not have arch support or even allow for a proper walking style.
As a parent, you may not know if your child has low muscle tone, lacks an arch, or has loose ligaments. So start with your pediatrician. During your child’s next physical exam, ask the doctor about footwear or, for another opinion, go visit a physical therapist or an orthopedist.
Proper shoes ensure less fatigue for your little one and less complaints of discomfort.
Some fun ways to strengthen your child’s feet and arches are walking and running on varied surfaces.
For example, sand at the beach is ideal; feet and calves get a massive work-out, and the sand also provides a wonderful sensory opportunity for your child’s feet. It’s always great to expose your child’s skin to different textures.
In addition, some other suggestions for strengthening bare feet with a fun sensory component:
1) Walking and running in the backyard on grass
2) Walking on bubble wrap
3) Stepping from one cushion to the next (place couch cushions on a non-skid floor)
4) Walking and running on fluffy carpeting i.e. shag carpets
5) Hardwood surface play
Amanda Math MPT, received her Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Rutgers/UMDNJ in 2001. She is the principal Physical Therapist at Jumping Jax. Amanda has extensive experience working with children of all ages. She has been evaluating and treating infants, toddlers and children with a wide variety of developmental, neurological, musculoskeletal, and congenital impairments. She incorporates her passion for physical therapy with her love of athletics and has completed extensive course work. Amanda has presented multiple workshops for Special Education Preschools and Elementary Schools throughout her career on a variety of developmental, neurological and musculoskeletal topics.