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PT's Guide to Shoe Shopping

Updated: Apr 10

Shoe shopping can be stressful, especially if your child has special needs that require adaptive footwear. Here are a few tips and tricks from our PT team that will make finding the right shoe for your little one a bit easier. These are all suggestions and recommendations to help with proper foot and ankle development as your little one grows, so keep in mind that everyone has different shoe needs.

General rule of thumb for shoe type based on developmental stage:

Infants- Their feet are still developing and they’re not walking yet, so there’s no purpose in having a rigid or overly supportive shoe. Babies do best when they’re barefoot, wearing socks, or have soft slip-on shoes to promote healthy growth and development.

Toddlers- These guys are learning how to walk and have a high activity level, so they need a good fitting, lightweight shoe that can keep up with them.

School age- Kids that are in school all day need to prioritize comfort in their footwear and functionality depending on their activity level.

Fit and function are the key factors in finding the right shoe for your child. Again, every child is different and has different needs, so these are general guidelines to help you find shoes that work best. If your child has a developmental delay, disability, or special concern when it comes to footwear, ask your PT or orthotist for their recommendations!

When it comes to fit, think Goldilocks- it must be just right. It’s tempting to buy big and let them grow into their shoes, but this can cause balance problems or tripping when kiddos are already unsure of their footing when learning to walk. Also, if shoes are getting tight, don’t put off buying new shoes because small shoes can hinder foot development and cause discomfort. Here are 6 tips to make sure their shoe is just right:

Shoe Buying Guide Image

Fitting shoes for orthotics (AFOs/ SMOs/ FMOs):

When your child wears orthotics, it adds another level of consideration when looking for shoes. Here are some things to keep in mind when shoe shopping for orthotic friendly footwear:

  • Take a brace with you, or trace your child’s feet while wearing their orthotics and take that with you

  • Look for wide shoes or shoes with a wide toe box to accommodate orthotics

  • You may have to buy two different sizes

  • Keep an eye out for shoes that zip up the sides or back

  • Look for removable insoles, this can help with fit and is especially important if your child has a leg length difference

Orthotic Friendly Image

There are many brands that make shoes specifically for orthotics or fit easily over orthotics. However, just because a shoe fits an orthotic device, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good fit for your child. For example, Crocs provide a good heel cup and decent arch support, so they’re great for normally developing kiddos, but not recommended for children that wear orthotics or have issues with walking (toe-walking, balance concerns, physical delays). This is because they don’t provide contoured support, often fit loosely around the foot, and cannot be secured tight enough for those with walking challenges. Here is a quick reference guide to some of the most popular orthotic-friendly shoes worn by our clients and recommended by our physical therapists:

Now that you’ve found the right shoes, how do you know when to replace them? Buying new shoes every few months can be frustrating, but it’s necessary to encourage proper growth and development of your child’s feet and ankles and provide room the best possible movement mechanics.

When to replace shoes:

  • Obvious, uneven wear on shoes- like the bottom of the shoe, toe box, inside or outside of shoe sole

  • Toes are < ¼ - ½ inch from the tips of shoes (size changes every 3-4 months on average)

  • The inside lining is worn

  • Blisters are occurring

  • They are doing more activities (crawling --> walking, walking --> running)

Hopefully, this guide has provided your family with valuable information and can make your shoe shopping easier. The recommendations we’ve provided are for overall comfort, growth, and development and may vary from child to child. If you have specific questions about which shoes might work best for your child, ask your orthotist or physical therapist! If you’ve found your just right shoes, let us know in the comments below!

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