Why barefoot is best for children
Tracy Byrne, a podiatrist specialising in podopaediatrics, believes that wearing
shoes at too young an age can hamper a child's walking and cerebral
development. "Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking
barefoot," she says. "The feedback they get from the ground means there
is less need to look down, which is what puts them off balance and
causes them to fall down." Walking barefoot, she continues, develops the
muscles and ligaments of the foot, increases the strength of the foot's
arch, improves proprioception (our awareness of where we are in
relation to the space around us) and contributes to good posture.
"We've come to regard the way we dwell permanently in shoes as normal and natural," says John Woodward, an Alexander Technique teacher who has been barefoot for 25 years.
"It's anything but. True, we are no longer hunter-gatherers. True, our
urban environments are full of 'unnatural' dangers. But we can still
learn from our origins - footwear was designed to protect the soles of
the feet where necessary, and it was temporary."
Research published in podiatry journal The Foot in 2007 suggests that structural and functional changes can result from the foot
having to conform to the shape and constriction of a shoe, rather than
being allowed to develop naturally. And the younger the foot, the
greater the potential for damage.
The human foot at birth is not a miniature version of an adult foot. In fact, it contains no bones at all and consists of a
mass of cartilage, which, over a period of years, ossifies to become
the 28 bones that exist in the adult human foot. This process is not
complete until the late teens, so it is crucial that footwear - when
worn - is well chosen.