Given that your child spends more than six hours a day in their school shoes, getting a good pair is important not only for their day-to-day comfort, but has also longer term consequences for their foot development. Ill-fitting school shoes can cause foot, knee and posture problems in adolescence and beyond.
At birth, babies have 22 soft, partially formed bones in their feet. By school age, the number of bones has increased to 45, and they start to harden and fuse through late childhood and adolescence. At this stage, ill-fitting shoes can interfere with the process, causing malformations in the completed bone set of 26 at the age of about 18. Even buying shoes too big – so the kids can “grow into them” – can cause problems by changing the way a child walks.
A good school shoe:
- Is flexible, but supportive – it should bend enough at the toe end of the foot to accommodate normal flexing when walking, but not bend in half, and there should be some resistance if you try to twist it between the heel and toe.
- Weighs about 250g – some are much heavier than this.
- Has no more or no less than one thumb-width of space between the end of the big toe and the shoe.
- Offers support for running and jumping on concrete and bitumen.
- Doesn’t have to be expensive – a more expensive shoe may last all year, but your child may grow out of it first. For younger kids with fast-growing feet, there are plenty of cheaper options which still meet the above criteria.
Find the right sports shoes
The type of shoe you need will depend on the sport you’re using it for: running shoes and court shoes have different characteristics because of the different movements and forces involved. Running shoes are designed for running forwards, while court shoes are designed for more side-to-side movement.
Then there is your running motion, and whether you hit the ground heel-first or on the midfoot or toe first, and the degree of foot pronation (how much, if at all, your foot rolls inward). For more on shoes and pronation, see our Running shoes buying guide.
High-tech foot scanners and gait analysers can help determine the best shoe to suit your characteristics, but their usefulness is dependent upon the skills of the person interpreting the information.
Podiatrist Paul Bowles says most people need a stable sports shoe, and suggests the following tests to check for stability:
- The back of the heel (the heel counter) should be firm where it connects to the shoe.
- Running shoes should flex at the toe, but not in the middle, while court shoes should be stiff at the toes but flex in the middle.
- Hold the heel and toe and try twisting the shoe – it should be fairly rigid.
- The heel should be slightly raised compared to the front of the shoe.
Shoes designed to provide the feel of barefoot running wouldn’t meet these criteria. However, even though there’s no evidence they live up to claims of enhanced performance or preventing injuries, some people still prefer to run with them.
Buying shoes for ageing feet
As we age, our feet change too, with tendons and ligaments losing their elasticity and ability to ‘spring back’. This can result in feet gaining half a shoe size or more, as arches lower and the foot becomes flatter and longer, and perhaps also wider. We also lose the fat padding on the bottom of our feet, and by the age of 50 we’ve lost up to half the shock-absorbing ability of the foot pad.
- Sturdy, well-cushioned shoes with a firm sole, low heel, soft upper and plenty of room in the toe box is the ideal for all feet, but especially older feet.
- Make sure you get your feet remeasured when you buy, in case they’ve changed since last time.
- Shop in the afternoon, when your feet are slightly bigger due to swelling.