School shoes lose traction as best option for kids' feet

10 April 2012

The traditional sturdy school shoe may not be the best choice for growing children. [Image: Flickr/Andrew Scott]
The traditional sturdy school shoe may not be the best choice for growing children. [Image: Flickr/Andrew Scott]

Parents spend a lot of time and money picking out the perfect school shoes for their children, but a University of Sydney study is questioning whether the traditional solid, sturdy shoe is the best choice.

Faculty of Health Sciences PhD candidate Caleb Wegener is today presenting preliminary results from his research into how school shoes affect children's gait for the International Foot and Ankle Biomechanics (i-FAB) Conference at the University of Sydney.

Caleb and his team used 3D camera motion analysis technology to break down children's gait and investigate foot and ankle motion while running both in school shoes and bare feet.

He found that school shoes alter a number of variables in a child's gait that may have implications for their foot development.

"While further research is needed to show exactly how these changes in gait affect children's long term development, our main finding was that when children wear school shoes there is a reduction in motion within the foot that is compensated by the ankle," says Caleb.

"One of the things the shoes do at the ankle joint is increase how much the foot rolls in, which has been linked to injury in some people.

"The reduction in motion of the joints within the foot means the calf has to work a lot harder during propulsion, which potentially has injury implications for overuse of the calf and Achilles tendon," he says.

Children wearing school shoes also have a longer stride length, walk faster and have a wider base of gait, indicating that they might be looking for more stability.

"It's clear that we need to make some changes to school shoes. Shoes are important for protection and comfort, but shoe design doesn't always complement the function of the foot. We need to do comparative studies between traditional shoes and shoes that complement the natural movement of the foot," says Caleb, who is currently working on a new prototype school shoe.

In a separate study which will also be presented at i-FAB, Caleb looked at how children's sport shoes affect their balance, running agility and standing long jump. He found that there was no significant change between sports shoes and bare feet in running agility or balance, and only a slight improvement in standing long jump.

"In some ways sports shoes and school shoes are fairly similar, although there are some differences. There are enormous differences between going barefoot and wearing shoes, but the differences between shoes are much smaller, as they affect your foot in a similar way," says Caleb.

About i-FAB2012

The third international foot and ankle biomechanics congress (i-FAB2012) is hosted by Associate Professor Joshua Burns from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences in collaboration with the International Foot and Ankle Biomechanics community, and runs from 11 to 13 April.

The program covers both basic and clinical aspects of foot and ankle biomechanics from the perspectives of podiatrists, physiotherapists, orthopaedic surgeons, biomedical engineers, athletic trainers, biomechanists and other allied health professionals. i-FAB2012 has attracted almost 300 speakers and delegates from 22 countries, who will present four workshops, six keynote and invited addresses, 55 podium papers and 33 posters over the three days.

According to Associate Professor Burns, "The i-FAB community is driven by the desire to improve our understanding of foot and ankle biomechanics as it applies to health, disease and the community. i-FAB activities seek to enable more effective approaches to researching the foot and ankle, accelerating our ability to address the unique challenges the foot and ankle pose for biomechanical researchers, and foster seamless activities between researchers, clinicians and consumers. i-FAB has an open philosophy and connecting people across traditional disciplinary boundaries is one of its key objectives."

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