Dr. Brooke Lunsmann is a certified Chiropractor and a certified Gait Guru at Portland Family Health helping bodies ages 0-99 feel well and reach their optimal function and health goals. With study in movement-based diagnosis and  foot-related conditions she is part of the Gait Happens community striving to progress knowledge on how to best help patients.

Like much of the body, baby feet start out malleable and adapt to the environment. There are 26 bones, 29 muscles and even more joints and ligaments within one foot! To develop each one, they must use each one. This means walking, climbing, jumping, running and playing on variable surfaces, while naturally barefoot as much as possible.

Make sure the size is correct and can accommodate their growing feet. There should be room in front of their big toe and the toe box should be wide enough for all of their toes to be able to spread. Take a look at the empty shoe next to your child’s foot – is the shoe shaped like their foot? If not, the foot may be forced to develop into shoe shape. This can create discomfort, “bunion shaped” feet, & have lasting effects on their gait. The sole should also be quite flexible. In order to walk and run efficiently, all joints and muscles need to be able to move throughout that heel to toe cycle. Extra padding may be necessary in certain environments or when orthotics are prescribed by a physician (pediatric podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist etc) who is knowledgeable in gait mechanics. For the most part, the sole shouldn’t be so cushioned where their stability is compromised. If there is a lot of cushioning in the insole, it should be spread equally throughout the shoe so that their weight can also be equally distributed in every part of the foot. ie: a higher heel can push all of their weight into the toes, & a higher medial arch can push their weight to the outside edge of their foot (hello ankle sprains). When buying sandals, find a pair with a back strap so that they don’t have to curl and squeeze their toes to keep the shoe on with each step.

Provide safe surroundings for play while barefoot. If going barefoot isn’t possible in a particular scenario, make sure their feet are able to function in the shoe they are wearing. Expose them to a variety of sports and activities. Make sure they’re having fun!
What are some symptoms to watch out for in kids that can be caused by foot or gait dysfunction, even in the absence of foot pain? -Pain in the knee, hip, or low back
-Ankle sprains
-Toe walking
-Flat feet after the age of 6-8 yo
-“Bow-legged” after age 2, “Knock-knees” after age 6. *Our kid’s legs naturally go through these phases of development before settling into neutral.
– Difficulty sleeping
– Chest breathing at all times, even at rest (instead of with their belly)
Lack of foot muscle strength and lack of control in gait. If we can’t control the demands of our environment from the ground up, the impact can be felt higher up the chain.
What is the hubbub we all hear about the barefoot shoe?

To put it simply, barefoot shoes are designed to allow the foot to a be foot. For the majority of my patients, this is the ultimate goal.

That being said, if your feet have spent most of your life in cushioned arch supports and/or heels, I recommend a gradual transition. You wouldn’t immediately go run a marathon barefoot after having a cast on your foot for 20+ years. The feet require gradual loading and strengthening like any other part of your body.

Wiggle and spread those toes, massage and move all the muscles and joints, provide variability and challenge for growth in mobility, stability, and strength. Go barefoot more often!

PDX Parent Staff
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