Babies should learn to walk barefoot

Small children walk well

15.06.2017

Man is born four-handed, so to speak. Babies' feet are actually hands, shaped to hold on to, grasp and climb, just like our closest relatives who still live in the trees.

In order to raise his head above the animals, the little human has to become a biped. For this important step, which took mankind millions of years, it only takes him ten to fifteen months. By the way, he doesn't need any shoes, emphasizes the Children's Health Foundation in a statement.

"As delicate as they may look - baby feet are strong enough to bear the weight of the body," says pediatrician Professor Dr. Berthold Koletzko, Chairman of the Children's Health Foundation. “Shoes are not necessary for their healthy development, on the contrary: Shoes prevent the feet from touching and grasping. This means that the child is deprived of important sensory stimuli and sensations and thus additional perceptual impulses for their brain. People only need shoes for protection against cold, heat and injuries ”.
In stores and on the Internet, many manufacturers offer their children's shoes under the name "first walkers". The Children's Health Foundation emphasizes that no child needs shoes to learn to walk. Shoes are only appropriate if a child has already learned to walk so well that they want to move forward on their own two feet outside.

Walking barefoot - a kick for the head and feet

It is best for the child to start walking on their own soles - barefoot. Or - for example on cold floors in the apartment - on socks or in flexible slippers that are equipped with rubber studs to prevent slipping. Your advantage: the feet move more freely and it is easy to see whether the socks fit. Because even slippers have to fit, emphasizes the Children's Health Foundation: Unfortunately, according to current studies, around 80% of children wear slippers that are too short.

Professor Koletzko: “When walking barefoot, a child opens up a new world, especially in summer. It experiences for the first time what sand, grass, gravel, warm or wet ground feels like. It learns to feel the different properties of the ground with its foot. Running over bumps strengthens the muscles, strengthens the skeleton, trains the sense of balance and thus makes the gait safer ”.
Around 98% of all babies are born with healthy feet. Even when the child starts walking, their feet are still normal. From that moment on, however, it often goes down rapidly. By the time they reach adulthood, around 60% of people have suffered damage to their feet and posture. This means: in more than half of all cases, feet are downright spoiled in childhood.

Supports and insoles are often useless

A baby's feet are tiny, petite, and soft. It is hard to imagine that one day they will be able to support the weight of your body. For this reason, it was believed for a long time that the development had to be helped by proppants. It was the time of the insoles, the extra firm, high lace-up boots and the extended heel caps.

“Today we know that such aids do not promote healthy children's feet, but actually hinder them,” says pediatrician Professor Berthold Koletzko. “Children's feet need freedom of movement and a load that the child himself takes care of with their natural urge to move. Children's shoes must therefore be soft and flexible. Under no circumstances should you restrict your feet. It is not the foot that should adapt to the shoe, but the shoe to the foot ”.

If the shoes are too short and their soles are stiff, they cannot follow the movements of the foot. The center of the foot is lowered and the big toe is tilted. Forefoot damage already occurs in infancy, according to the Children's Health Foundation. Suitable shoes prevent such damage.

Buy for growth - not a healthy trend

Earlier studies of the shoes actually worn by the children repeatedly came to the result that half of the children in this country walk around in shoes that are too small. The results of the measurements for the most recent “German Children's Foot Report” were all the more surprising. The examination of the feet and shoes of 10,773 children between the ages of 0 and 18 by employees of the Institute for Sports Medicine and Prevention at the University of Potsdam showed: Today many children wear shoes that are not too small, but too big! Over 40% of the children walked around in shoes, some of which were one to three sizes larger than the measured foot size.
According to the Children's Health Foundation, there are several explanations for the change in trend. The years of discussion about children's shoes that are too small could finally have borne fruit and many parents make sure that their children do not run around in shoes that are too small. The often high price of good children's shoes may also have played a role: While in the past more parents tried to save a pair of children's shoes by letting their children run around with shoes that were too small, many parents today try to save a shoe size by saving them buy shoes that are too big.

The high standard of the children's shoes offered in Germany is largely due to the WMS measurement system (wide-medium-narrow) introduced in 1974. The system works with design standards for children's shoes that have been jointly agreed by paediatricians, orthopedic surgeons and shoe and last manufacturers. They include defined length and width dimensions, but also guidelines on shape, construction and material use for children's shoes.

"The measurement of the feet according to the WMS system only really makes sense if WMS-standardized children's shoes are actually bought afterwards," emphasizes Professor Koletzko. Non-WMS shoes often deviate by one or two shoe numbers from the excellent size, usually downwards.
How do you find the right shoe?

The Children's Health Foundation recommends that parents pay attention to the following points when buying shoes:

  • Shoes must always be tried on when buying. Expert advice works better in business than when ordering on the Internet.
  • The length has to be right. This cannot be determined precisely by pressing on the tip of the shoe (“thumb test”). It is therefore best to make a footprint for the purchase: trace a child's foot on cardboard and add about twelve millimeters in length when cutting out. If this dummy fits into the shoe, it is the right length.
  • The width also has to be right. In good shoe stores, the WMS system can be used to measure whether the child's feet are wide, medium or narrow. Unfortunately, the shoes that go with them are not always in stock: even large shoe stores today often only offer a small selection for children. The right model must be ordered if necessary.
  • The child should try the shoes in the afternoon when their feet have become a little swollen from walking and standing. This reduces the risk of catching shoes that are too small.

How many pairs of shoes does a child need?

Since children's feet often grow in phases, you should check every two to three months whether the shoes still fit, recommends the Children's Health Foundation. At the age of two to four years, children's feet grow two to three shoe lengths a year. If a toddler gets new shoes only once a year, they will wear shoes that are too small most of the time.

The child's information cannot be relied on: Because they are so soft, children's feet can also be forced into shoes that, in extreme cases, are up to five sizes too small, warns the Children's Health Foundation. As a result, the toes are forced into misalignments that can permanently damage the feet and legs.
Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with passing on little-worn children's shoes, emphasizes the Children's Health Foundation. However, the “inherited” shoes must be long enough and should not be deformed or unilaterally expired.

Conspicuous feet - harmless or cause for concern?

The flat shape of the feet in babies has nothing to do with flat feet. Baby feet have a slightly flatter curvature because the arch of the foot only develops properly when they learn to walk. However, the main reason why they look so flat is because a thick pad of fat covers the bones. It protects the baby's feet from getting too cold, but also from overload. A real flat foot - it is also known as a rocking foot or an ink eraser foot - is extremely rare.

Some children are born with one or two sickle feet. The toes are pointed inwards. Treatment is usually unnecessary, or a light foot massage is sufficient for "redression": The outer edge of the foot is gently stroked a few times a day. The heel foot is also harmless (the forefoot points steeply upwards). It almost always disappears on its own. A real bad posture, on the other hand, is the clubfoot. It occurs three times in a thousand babies, twice as often in boys as in girls, and it cannot be corrected manually.

The main acquired foot damage is splayfoot. It is more common with age. The splayfoot is caused by narrowing or persistent compression of the toes in shoes that are too small or too wide. The crooked toes are a special form of this foot defect, but also the claw and hammer toes. Incidentally, the tendency to this can also be hereditary: splayfoot and crooked toe are more common in certain families than in others.

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(Giulia Roggenkamp, ​​Press Office, Children's Health Foundation)
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Source: idw, press release Children's Health Foundation