Get Off on the Right Foot: Advice When Buying Back-to-School Shoes for Kids

BYLINE: Robin Frank

Newswise — The start of the school year means new classes, new school supplies and for many kids, new shoes. If the back-to-school shopping list includes a new pair of sneakers, it’s important to choose a shoe with good support that fits well, according to pediatric orthopedic surgeons at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS).

“When parents bring their children in with foot pain or an injury, the first thing I do is ask about their shoes. The problem is often inappropriate or poorly fitting footwear,” says Dr. John Blanco, who sees young patients at HSS in New York City and at HSS Long Island. “Footwear has a lot to do with how their feet function day to day, especially during athletic activities.”

Dr. Blanco says a sneaker should fit well in terms of length and width, have good arch support, and be made of sturdy materials. “If we could make sure shoes were the right size, had proper support and were laced up appropriately, we would probably solve 80% of the basic foot problems we see in kids,” he says.

While many people have no problem with sneakers that they buy off the shelf, a specialty store with experienced staff can measure the foot and help select the best shoe for one’s foot type, according to Dr. Blanco.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a good shoe. “The price of the sneaker has nothing to do with the quality of the shoe,” he says. “I see kids all the time with shoes that may look fancy on the outside, but you look inside and see that they don’t provide support.“

Dr. Blanco recommends lace-up sneakers over those that use Velcro, which provides less support. He says it’s important for young people to lace up their shoes each time they put them on. “Many kids are in the habit of slipping their foot into and out of a shoe without lacing it up appropriately, and this affects the way the shoe fits,” he explains. “A loose shoe can leave a someone more prone to injury if playing a sport.” Laces should go all the way to the very top hole and be tied snugly, as properly laced shoes give more stability to the foot.

How to Choose

When choosing sneakers, Joseph Molony, a physical therapist and manager of the Young Athlete Program at HSS, recommends people start with a good quality name-brand shoe. You don’t need to buy a top-of-the-line luxury model, but a solid name-brand shoe will generally be well constructed of quality materials. He offers additional advice when shopping for sneakers:

  • Identify which brand fits best. Each company uses a specific foot mold when designing shoes. You may need a narrower heel, a wider toe box or a higher arch. Try on different brands to see which design is a good match for your foot structure. Once you’ve identified which one fits well, you can generally stick with that brand. 
  • The shoe should fit comfortably and snugly with no gaps between your foot and the inside of the shoe. For example, someone with a narrow foot may not do well with a shoe with a wide toe box.
  • The shoe shouldn’t be so tight that it rubs against your foot in certain spots. 
  • Your heel should not rise up out of the shoe when you walk. Even if the shoe feels comfortable, the heel should not slide up and down.
  • If you find a shoe you like in a store and it fits well, you can see if it’s available online for less money. If the color you want isn’t available in the store, you may also be able to find it online.
  • Be careful when considering soft, flexible, cross training and minimalist sneakers (if you can roll them up or twist them easily, they would generally fall into this category). While they may be comfortable and fine for some, they are not be the best choice for kids who need shoes with support.
  • Runners may want to alternate running shoes every other day since shoe materials often take some time to recover their shape. You end up buying the same number of shoes each year when you rotate them.
  • Wear the appropriate shoe for the athletic activity. Although cross-training shoes can be used for various athletic activities, many sports require specific shoes. Running shoes are not appropriate for court and field sports.

Dr. Blanco says it’s important to retire shoes once they’re worn out. He says many teens hold on to their shoes too long. “The main problem I see is that people wear their shoes to the very end. The shoelaces are broken, their toe is ripping through the side of the shoe, the sole is worn down, but they love the shoes.”

Once a shoe is worn out, it no longer provides the support and protection needed for day-to-day activities, let alone sports.

About HSS

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 14th consecutive year), No. 2 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2023-2024), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2023-2024). In a survey of medical professionals in more than 20 countries by Newsweek, HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics for a third consecutive year (2023). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection and complication rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. In addition, more than 200 HSS clinical investigators are working to improve patient outcomes through better ways to prevent, diagnosis, and treat orthopedic, rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. The HSS Innovation Institute works to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 165 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.

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