Barefoot - yes or no?

   Parents often consult the barefoot shoes issue with us and they discuss this question quite intensively.  This strengthening trend has, like any new trend, its staunch supporters and indecisive, cautious observers searching for facts and arguments. But we can see also sceptical and strong opponents. Moreover, this trend is supported by massive marketing and advertising (unfortunately sometimes intentionally) of retailers and manufacturers that "hopped on" the wave and they stand by barefoot shoes.

  So how is it anyway?  Is it healthy fashion or a successful marketing move? For us being a manufacturer of children's shoes it is not easy to take a clear stand on this issue even though we do consider ourselves experts and we have been dealing with the area of designing and manufacturing healthy children’s footwear for decades. Considering the fact that we do not produce barefoot shoes (this does not mean that our footwear is not flexible, soft and considerate to the child’s foot), each of our questioning or negative statement could be easily understood as merely "blowing our own trumpet" and our opponents could challenge us during a discussion, that our arguments are targeted and unsubstantiated. Therefore we felt the need to support our opinions with a statement of some respected authority. This authority is for us represented by the Czech Footwear and Leather Association in Zlín (ČOKA) with a wide background of professionals, experts, orthopaedists, paediatricians, University of T. Bata which issues certificates of health safety of shoes and the license to use the "Giraffe" and "Czech quality" trademarks. We have cooperated with them for a long time when it comes to the area of healthy footwear for children. Now we have finally succeeded after months of effort and PhDr. Vlasta Mayer (secretary of ČOKA Zlín) published an article on barefoot footwear “Doctors warn” in the first issue of a bimonthly magazine “World of textile & footwear” (Jan/Feb 2016). The published article is quite extensive and  we cannot quote the whole article here, but let us state at least a few basic ideas and thoughts of the experts:

- barefoot shoes were originally designed for running primarily on natural soft surfaces with typically separated fingers. The offer has since been extended to shoes for casual wear, including children's footwear. Due to the massive advertising and marketing it has become a question of fashion and parents buy it for their children even if it is enormously overpriced. These shoes are often recommended as walking footwear, as well as domestic footwear, in fact it is suitable for "any use and purpose" and a child should wear them as long as possible. Anyway, the adverts say they are healthy and thus “the most suitable” for development of children's foot! But is it really so? Experts and results of various studies investigating the impact of the use of children’s barefoot shoes on the vault of the foot, joints and ligaments have recently warned us against them.

- ČOKA dealt with a complaint filed by a disappointed customer regarding child’s barefoot shoes, they asked for expert testimonies to be elaborated on the shoes by leading experts in the country. MUDr. Tomas Janeček, the head physician of the orthopaedic department of the Regional Hospital of Tomas Bata in Zlín, states in his report: 'The footwear in question cannot be assessed accordingly to standard criteria for health-consious children's shoes. According to these criteria it can be recommended only for a very short-term wear".

MuDr. Vladimír Holoubek, an orthopaedic surgeon and a paediatrician, who represents the opinion of the Czech paediatric society, is even stricter in his report ... "In my opinion the shoes are not designed for all-day wear, in fact, all-day wear can damage the child's can possibly lead to the development of deformities". And what is the conclusion of the expert testimony of  MUDr. Michael Matějíčka? "In terms of concept, the presented shoes may be considered shoes into the water. Due to the material composition and structure, the footwear is not considered suitable for daily wear. "

   We believe that this conclusion does not need any further comment. Our recommendation to parents of young children is therefore based on acquired experiences and conclusions of the XIV. International paediatric symposium in Brno. Wherever the child can walk barefoot, let her walk barefoot – firmer anti-slip socks are enough for the protection. Barefoot walking is suitable on grass, moss, sand or oval stones. For urban paving, asphalt, concrete and other hard surfaces we highly recommend health conscious children´s footwear that not only protects children's feet, but supports the foot in its natural functions. Shoes should be made of natural materials which adjust the best to the anatomic shape of the child's foot, with a flexible insole and a sole sufficiently elastic in the front part under finger joints and sufficiently rigid reinforcement of shoes in the heel protecting the heel against inadvertent deflection sideways (valgus “x” heels or varus "o" heels). And above all it is important to check the size of children's shoes if the child did not already grow out of it!

Ing. Vojtech Račko

the executive manager of RAK s.r.o

Used sources:

- World of Textile & Footwear (January / February 2016) "Barefoot" Yes or no? Doctors warn, PhDr.  Vlasta Mayerov


- perpendicular – right !

- o - varus

- x - valgus

Fig. 1: The position of the calcaneus

   Valgus is a very unfavourable heel position (heel to x) which overloads the inner longitudinal arch and contributes to its decline. The formation of valgus and its associated various health problems (e.g. wrong posture, flat feet...) can be caused by the extended use of unsuitable footwear. Children's footwear should protect against inadvertent turning of the heel to the sides (see valgus/varus) which is ensure a sufficiently stiff and high heel shoes encircling the child´s heel.

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