The most important factor when buying athletic footwear for children is comfort and injury prevention. When children participate in a sport, they should wear shoes designed specifically for the demands of that particular sport.
While in the store, remember the basics of a good fit. There should be a thumbs width from the tip of the child's toe to tile end of the shoe. This way, the toes have room to wiggle freely. The heel of the shoe should not slip off the foot as the child walks or runs.
Always keep an eye out for quality athletic shoes that have good support, as well as ample cushioning. Running shoes, in general, come with a variety of arch supports. Knowing what type of arch the child's foot has -- high, medium or low -- can be extremely helpful in selecting the most comfortable and supportive shoe.
For those children who have flat feet or who pronate excessively, special custom-made orthotics would be beneficial.
Soccer shoes can contribute to heel pain in adolescents. The limited number of cleats at the heel of the shoe can cause excessive pressure on the growth plate of the child. Many soccer players between the ages of 9 and 15 complain of heel pain. Shoes with multiple cleats at the heel can help alleviate the problem. However, these shoes are not always easy to find.
Shorter cleats on football and soccer shoes may help to reduce knee and ankle injuries for the young players. Cleats should be no more than one-half inch long. For general athletic shoes, cross-trainers are a suitable choice as they allow for side-to-side motion, whereas running shoes are made for forward movement. All shoes that are used in sports should be examined for signs of wear and promptly replaced.
Dr. Robert Weiss lives in Westport and has a sports-podiatry practice in Darien. He is a former marathon runner and was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials.