Athletic Footwear For Children

By Russell G. Volpe, DPM

   Although the summer will soon be winding down, the activities of children dictate year-round use of athletic footwear. When assessing and treating pediatric patients, and answering the questions of their parents, clinicians often face the challenge of evaluating and recommending features in a good pediatric athletic shoe.    Certainly, using orthoses can help encourage normal development of the foot. However, in order to improve function and the patient’s activity level, one must also consider the features of athletic footwear in order to optimize the effectiveness of the orthotic prescription and maximize the potential benefit of the therapeutic intervention.    The basic principles for choosing athletic footwear in children are simple. The shoe must be up to the task and designed to support the high activity level of the child until he or she outgrows the shoe. Some parents may see cost as a deterrent and may be tempted to cut corners on athletic footwear for their children, reasoning that children will outgrow the shoes in a short time anyway. However, given the high activity levels and varied demands children place on their feet, clinicians should emphasize the importance of quality and craftsmanship as key features.    The shoe should offer good cushioning, support and protection when it is intended for athletic use. These shoes should have ample forefoot width and toe-box room in order to reduce crowding. When assessing the child’s current athletic shoes, check for proper length, width and depth. The counter should be firm in order to minimize untoward medial and lateral movements of the rearfoot. Check the heel for minimal up and down slippage. The shank should be moderately rigid with increasing flexibility across the ball to allow for the emerging heel-to-toe gait in the toddler. The shoe should not have a rigid sole even in the youngest walker as these tend to hamper early gait and may lead to increased clumsiness. A high-top shoe may be beneficial in toddlers who may have trouble keeping their shoes on.    The closure can be laces or Velcro. Many parents prefer the convenience of Velcro closure with children who are not yet tying their own shoes. If the shoe has a Velcro closure, be sure the quality is not compromised and that it has the aforementioned features of a good athletic shoe. The slip-on shoe, popularized by Merrill, is now widely available in children’s sizes in a variety of styles.    While these shoes offer the ease of simple donning and doffing, they should not be a first choice when one desires maximum support of the child’s foot for athletic use and particularly if one has prescribed a motion controlling orthosis.    In some cases, it may be necessary to remind parents that handing down athletic shoes from one child to another is never a good idea. Each child creates individualized wear patterns in a shoe and inappropriate use of another child’s shoe can place undue stress on a child’s feet.

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