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Tighter Regulation of the Children’s Footwear Industry

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Over 30 million pounds is spent annually on chiropody services for the over 60s and it is estimated that 70 per cent of adult foot problems come from wearing the wrong footwear, with the majority caused by ill-fitting footwear worn as a child¹. Leading Biomechanics Coach and Chartered Physiotherapist, Martin Haines is working with Start-rite Shoes and www.healthylittlefeet.com to raise awareness of how poorly fitted footwear can affect children's overall development and impact on their adult health. 

Martin explains: €œThe foot is part of an integrated system. It will both influence and be influenced by the structure and function of the body above it. The connective tissue in a child's foot will reach adult levels of stability by the age of 15 and a child's gait may not mature till the age of 13², so during school age, children need effective stimuli to help muscles and bones develop healthily.  The wrong footwear in primary aged children can have a huge effect on healthy development, so I am calling for increased scrutiny and tougher regulation of the children's shoe industry. It's great to kick off this process with Start-rite Shoes, as a leading children's footwear brand.€ 

Martin is consulting Start-rite by providing information to its customers and advising during the design and development phase of shoe production to ensure the shoes provide the best support and stimulation to growing children. On 16 March 2015, Start-rite will launch a new parent information hub www.healthylittlefeet.com

Eve Davies, Start-rite Brand Director explains: "www.healthylittlefeet.com provides parents with information and advice on what to look for when buying shoes and the importance of healthy foot development. Services include a €˜Ready for Shoes' checker, alongside information, videos, animations and images that we have created with Martin, to reassure and educate parents. Martin is also providing counsel to our design teams. We are committed to creating the very best shoes and service to children and their parents and welcome more scrutiny of the children's footwear industry. We're proud to be working with Martin to raise awareness of the issues associated with ill-fitting shoes in childhood.€

Foot problems can occur for two key reasons:  

1.   Inactive children are more likely to have weak muscles in their feet, less coordination and poorer balance. This can lead to alteration of the foot shape, flatter feet and consequently the risk is higher for injuries when they get older. 
 
2.   Ill-fitting shoes or shoes that do not suit a child's feet.  Ill-fitting shoes can cause a child's foot to become misshapen, altering how it can function mechanically.
 
A common foot problem that can be caused by incorrect shoes is over pronation (flat footed).   If the heels on the shoes are too high for the foot type, it can cause (among other things) the calf muscles to become stiff.  This can then cause the foot to flatten too much (or pronate).  This means that the whole foot and the shinbone actually turn inwards too far, which puts more pressure on the leg.  2194_image3.jpgSpecifically this can cause shin splints, knee ligament injuries, Ilio-tibial band syndrome and hip muscle injuries.
 
A stiff big toe joint is a common cause of sports injury and using rigid shoes when younger, which prevent the big toe joint from moving freely can cause it to become stiff over time.  This means unaccustomed pressure going through the knee and hips, which over time and continued use, can cause injury.  Typically this can cause Achilles tendinitis, Patella tendinitis, hamstring injury, hip and low back pain. 

Three easy steps to giving your child's feet the best start:

1.   Encourage your child to take mini adventures and spend time active playing to develop their natural movement instincts. 
The body's physical development is based around movement.  Movement strengthens muscles, it both loosens and stabilizes joints, and it enables coordination of sometimes quite complex physical tasks.  Movement also helps with balance.  Balance is helped by a number of systems, one of which is a system of strain gauges within every joint, ligament and muscle.  These strain gauges are known as Proprioceptors, which are little cells that when stimulated by movement, tell the brain about the position of the joint and pressure going through it.  This system is critical for correct physical development, including strength and flexibility and the ability to run and move in a balanced and coordinated manner. 

2.     Always purchase the correct width size. 
There is a wide variety of foot widths between boys and girls and of different age groups. Any shoe wishing to provide the correct fit for each of these many variables, must provide different width fittings. 

Martin Haines

Martin Haines

Leading Biomechanics Coach and Chartered Physiotherapist

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