This article come from a series of informal discussions with various friends and customers on natural foot development. As children's feet grow little consideration appears to be given by the mainstream shoe manufacturers to natural foot development. I wonder, have these shoes designers actually looked at children feet? As such, I felt compelled and inspired to write this article.
In the last article we looked at how my children's feet interacted with shoes having different sole shapes (by drawing around the shoes). In this article we'll follow up to look at my children's feet (Team Bear-Foot) and show what it is about their feet that give rise to anatomically specific requirements for children's shoe design.
Let's meet the feet......
If we look at Chewey's first (left). We see a normal 2 year old's foot. The arch not yet fully formed, the feet look flat, there is plenty of fat around the foot to give the shock absorbency that the developed arch will eventually provide. Look at the overall shape of the foot. It's triangular. It does not curve or taper at the big toe. At this point in it's development we expect there to be 22 bones in each foot interconnected with cartilage. It is susceptible to external influences (i.e. shoes).
Now look at Popsy's foot (right). We see a 4 year old foot. A more developed arch and a distinct reduction of fat in the foot (in part due to the arch development). We can also see a triangular foot shape and observe a gap between the big toe and the second toe - the result of the natural tendency of the feet to splay when unhindered by poor shoe design. At this stage in the foot's development we expect there to be up to 45 bones per foot. In the space of 2 years that's a big change.
I've highlighted these points on the same images below indicating the natural (triangular) shape of the foot and the widest point of my children's feet with a pink arrow.
Image above shows the triangle shape of children's feet, and the pink arrow indicates the widest part of the foot.
THE FOOT IS WIDEST AT THE BIG TOE - SO WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
'The function of the toes, especially the big toe, is to help us balance, and to propel us forward during walking or running. The 14 bones of the toes are among the smallest in the body, and, not surprisingly, things can and often do go wrong. Some problems begin in childhood and may go unnoticed. Others begin later on in life, perhaps as the result of injury or the added pressure of incorrect footwear.'
'The big toe is the final sequence in a box of tricks that nature provides for us through our feet.'
(Mr Kartik Hariharan is one of the country’s leading foot and ankle surgeons).
The big toe is essential for balance and for our forward movement. And remember, by forward motion, we are talking interaction in the proper [kinetic] function of ankles, knees, hips and lower back (and beyond)......So for our children the big toe and it's natural development is a BIG DEAL.
SO WHY IS PROVISION FOR THIS VITAL PART OF THE FOOT SO LITTLE CONSIDERED IN MOST MAINSTREAM SHOE DESIGNS?
The answer: We don't know! That's why we started Bear-Foot.
Let's look at some mainstream shoe soles and some of our soles and see which fit the feet above best. I've marked the widest point of the shoe with an arrow.
It is seen in the photos above that the toe box is already tapering against the big toe much before the end of the shoe.
In our previous blog post, we demonstrated that our shoes have a wide toe box giving toes the wriggle room that they need.
If you liked this article then please share. And keep your eyes out for future blog posts tracking the adventures of Team Bear-Foot!
If everything is working properly, this should be easy because your brain can sense your body, as well as its position and movement through space. This is called Proprioception, sometimes also referred to as our Sixth Sense(!).
THE SIXTH SENSE (NO NOT THE MOVIE!)
We're all familiar with the five standard senses, which include Vision, Hearing, Smell, Taste and Touch - especially so in our own children. The idea that there are only five of them has been rooted in our minds since the time of Aristotle (a fairly clever Greek philosopher.....turns out he missed #6 though). For centuries scientists have seriously entertained the idea of a sixth sense that allows us to perceive our bodies, because lets face it - that first challenge was easy so there's something in it.
There remains a lot of debate whether proprioception can be considered an additional sense, regardless it allows us to understand our physical place within the world. And to that extent it is important to my children and yours too.
FEET: THE FOUNDATION
At Bear-Foot we're super passionate about natural foot development, I bang on about how great the human foot is a lot (I'm a barefoot runner and mad about it). In the context of this ramble I would like to stress that the feet are the foundation of proper balance and posture because they are loaded with proprioceptive sensors. These sensors are constantly sending signals to thebrain, which then sends signals back down the spinal column to the muscles telling them when to contract and when to relax. Every movement from standing to walking, running and jumping are controlled by this system.
SO WHAT ABOUT SHOES?
The foot has evolved over millions of years to a dextrous and sensitivemasterpiece – by patronising it with thick soles and supportive padding we’re limiting its potential and risking injury throughout the body.
But here’s the catch: if the bare foot is so wonderful, why did humans invent shoes? Although the human foot is a marvel of evolutionary engineering it has one serious design flaw: a lack of protection from the environment.
Even If we accept that barefoot is best, we must also accept that footwear is essential to protect our children's feet.
FOOTWEAR THAT MAKES SENSE!
The perfect shoe allows the foot to behave exactly as it would if bare, whilst also providing protection from the environment.......and if they can look great too - then all the better!
Whatever shoe you pick for your child we recommend the following criteria:
1. THE SHOES MUST ALLOW FOR SENSORY FEEDBACK
Your body and brain need to receive feedback from your senses in order to know how to move. The sole of your foot is packed with sensory receptors, so the sole of your running shoe must allow feedback from the terrain you’re moving on in order to create a natural running style.
2. THE FOOT SHOULD NOT BE RESTRICTED BY THE SHOE (OR IT'S SHAPE)
When their foot hits the ground, your child's toes splay outwards to help balance their stride. The toe box should be wide enough to accommodate this spread without any restriction. The shape of the shoe should represent the natural shape of the foot (see a previous article about this).
3. THE SHOE'S DESIGN MUST NOT UNBALANCE THE FOOT'S NATURAL POSITION
During standing and walking there is a fairly balanced distribution of weight on the forefoot and heel. Raising the heel (through the shoe) potentially shifts the weight distribution towards the forefoot which can lead to developmental and foot problems in the future.
.....AND DID I SAY IF THEY LOOK COOL TOO THEN ALL THE BETTER.
You can't see inside them, all you have is a thumb/finger to prod about with, and perhaps some feedback (depending on age and speech). So how to chose the right shoe and know what's truly happening to their foot?
In this post along with the help of Team Bear-Foot we'd like to show you what goes on when the foot is inside various shoes, to highlight why fact #1 in our Foot Health info is so important (that's why it's #1!).
So what is fact #1?
- CHILDREN'S FEET ARE NOT MINIATURE VERSIONS OF ADULT FEET -
...Shoes should have....A WIDE TOE BOX (And ours do - see below!).
TEST #1 - POPSY
We selected 3 pairs of shoes worn by Popsy - Livie & Luca 'Millie', Converse All-Stars & Flamenco Shoes!
And we drew around them.
Popsy then put her foot over the outlined shoes (in the same place). So left to right;
1. Flamencos - we can see rather extreme interference with the big toe, the little toe and the arch of the foot.
2. Converse All-Stars - less interference, mainly around the tip of the big toe.
3. Livie & Luca 'Millie' - no interference, a wide toe box = wriggle room!
TEST #1 - CHEWEY
We did the same with Chewey, though his thug-like approach meant the paper got a bit twisted and we had about 20 takes to complete the job!
We again selected 3 same sized shoes. A Gap off the shelf shoe, a Converse All-Star and a Livie & Luca 'Elephant' with the 'turf' sole.
Looking at Chewey's feet - his are wide (and sweaty!).
1. Standard Gap shoes - there is barely enough room for his foot yet he can get these on and no doubt a lot of people (unknowingly) would do the same. His big toe, little toe and the width of the foot would be compressed if pushed into this shoe.
2. Converse All-Stars - they are tight and there is interference with the big toe.
3. Livie & Luca 'turf' sole - there is plenty of room for his wide feet, lateral and longitudinal wriggle room. The space also allows the feet to breath.
FOR THE GEEKS - A BIT OF SCIENCE!
Babies are born with fewer bones. At birth there are 22 bones in fact (rather 26 as an adult). By school age, this number will increase to 45. It is a concerning fact that many children suffer foot problems by their early teens, often associated with ill-fitting shoes.
Since so much of the foot is cartilage, they are malleable and impressionable. The foot is subject to external influences – one of those influences is the shoe itself. Naturally developed feet should be widest at the tip of the big toe (just like our logo....or my children's feet).......toes need wriggle room!
So, there you go. I hope that demonstrates the importance of what it we're trying to achieve with Bear-Foot. Look at the shoes - they look cool, but see above, they'll also allow your children's feet to develop naturally, without interference and restriction.
Please subscribe to our newsletter for future blog articles.