And…I clicked the link.
Soo I'm probably going to be looking at expensive kids' shoes in my newsfeed for several days. But I had to click. Hadto. Hadto. These are kids' shoes. With a 3" heel and 1" platform. And. They are available starting at size 13. Which is the size my daughter wears. In kindergarten.
These wedge sandals are dramatic and I hope the sales at size 13 are really sparse. And, it's an exaggerated example of "heeled" shoes for kids, for sure. But heeled shoes for kids really are everywhere.
Now that I'm all into natural movement, shoe shopping has become a real headache. I used to love it. Now, I know too much. And shopping for my 6yo daughter is even more of a headache. My daughter and I have been talking a lot about "heels" on shoes as it is increasingly limiting our shoe choices the older she gets. She hates the limits (because she hates all limits), but is really good at "seeing" heels and points them out to me constantly.
Let's take a quick stroll over to an online shoe store for some visuals. Not everything is dramatic as the lovely Ginger Wedge Sandal, but it doesn't take major heel drama to interfere with our kids' developing bodies. Here are some simple examples of heeled kids shoes.
The oft heard argument that a 1" heel is a “sensible” choice for adults doesn’t hold up for kids. (And, by the way, the argument usually fails for grown-ups, too). What's the big deal?
For our kids' bodies, these are not just heeled shoes. They are high heeled shoes. In our kids' smaller bodies, even what we consider to be a smallish heel -- that gets dismissed all the time as negligible -- is often magnified in effect.
Positive heels affect the whole body
A positive heel is any heel on a shoe that lifts the heel of the foot higher than the toes. Almost all our shoes have a positive heel of some sort. Check out your closet -- you might be shocked. Even our flattest flats have a wee little 1/8 to 1/4" rise in the heel. Most athletic shoes have up to a 1" rise built in. And if you can't see it on the outside, it's often built into the insole.
As you can see in the picture on the right, a positive heel pitches the body forward and in order to stay upright, we make compensations in all of our joints and tissues all the way up the body. These compromises are felt in the joints and ligaments from the feet through the knees, hips and spine. The higher the heel, the greater the distortions. Any positive shoe prevents you from being in alignment.
Positive heels are extremely detrimental for growing bodies, particularly when worn as an everyday shoe. In the grown up world, a 1" heel is not considered dramatic. In fact, many consider it downright "sensible" if not "negligible."
But that's not how it works. A 1" heel is a considerable distortion for adult size bodies and that same heel is a GINORMOUS problem for kids' bodies. Podiatrist Dr. William Rossi wrote: "Relative to body height, a one inch heel worn by a child of seven is the equivalent of a two-inch heel worn by an adult. So almost all children [wearing heeled shoes] above age seven are wearing “high” heels the equivalent of two inches in height." (article) Dr. Rossi is doing the math for a 7 year old; keep in mind that shoes with heels come in much smaller shoe sizes, as we saw on our little shopping trip above.
Wearing a heeled shoe while your body is still developing distorts your joints, impacts how your bones and muscle develop and changes your movement patterns, sometimes for life.
One of the scariest impacts of heeled shoes on kids is it changes the way we are "weight-bearing" (how our bodyweight is loaded over our skeleton) and interferes with the development of maximum bone density. Katy Bowman writes, "the body establishes the level of maximum bone density by age twenty. The upright, weight-bearing motions that develop bone happen abundantly in kids -- they've got a lot of energy and natural tendency to stay active. Putting a heel under their feet during this critical phase of bone development penalizes them for the rest of their life. You can never develop bone past the quantities set during this developmental phase" (Bowman 133).
Bone tissue is pretty amazing stuff. It is constantly breaking itself down and rebuilding itself. And it does so because that's what we cue it to do. We cue it by being weight-bearing. Not lifting weights, but by letting our bones feel the full weight of our body against gravity. Well, there are different ways to hold up our body weight. When our body is pitched forward off our vertical axis, we are not fully loading our entire bones and we are not fully weight-bearing. While it seems like we are standing up straight, the individual parts are not vertical -- the sum total of all our joints bending makes us look vertical. We are telling our bone tissue that it doesn't need to be as strong.
(More on alignment and bone development: Weight Bearing Status, Mind Your Pelvis and Five Things you didn't know about osteoporosis.)
And bone tissue is just one tissue affected when we take our body out of alignment. A positive heel shoe affects our kids' alignment and sets them up for a lifetime of slowly developing health problems, including knee and ankle problems, pelvic floor issues, digestive issues, more difficult birthing and osteoporosis. Just to name a few.
A few simple steps to optimize bone development
There are many variables that contribute to our bones getting the mechanical signals they need to develop and maintain bone density. Shoes are just one (major) factor that can alter the messages we are sending our bones. You can move your kids' (and your own) bodies toward increased weight-bearing through a few simple steps.
- Encourage your kids to be barefoot as often as possible. Kick those shoes off and get your feet in contact with the ground.
- Opt for shoes that have no heel or lift. This is called a zero drop shoe. Finding these is not always an easy task (particularly when your kid wants to be really involved). However, head on over to the shoe list and Shoes: the Winter List (and be sure to check out the comments section). Also the Aligned and Well Facebook community talks about shoes for kiddos quite often.
- Let your kid be free range and walk, walk, and walk some more. Let them and encourage them to move naturally as often as possible. And definitely not while wearing heels.