Many parents agonize over making just the right choice for their baby’s first pair of shoes. In one important way, however, picking infant shoes is easier than choosing for an older child: Babies have nothing to say about what style or brand you put on their feet. Teens, however, have strong opinions about fashion—opinions that extend all the way to their toes. That could be why six out of 10 teens today experience foot pain, and two out of every 10 who suffer from foot pain experience it because they’re wearing high heels or other uncomfortable footwear, according to a 2012 survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).
“Foot health is incredibly important to a person’s overall health and well-being, especially in the teen years when feet are still growing,” says Robert Warkala, DPM, a podiatrist at Cornerstone Foot and Ankle and APMA member. “While our survey found that half of teens see feet as important to their overall health, many are still living with foot pain. It’s vital that we educate teens and their parents on how to properly care for their feet.”
With kids of all ages—including teens—heading back to school, parents will be buying a lot of shoes in the coming weeks. APMA offers these tips for choosing teen-friendly footwear that is good looking, stylish, comfortable, and smart:
- Sports are the top cause of foot pain in teenagers, APMA’s survey found. Seventy-five percent of high school students play a school or recreational sport, and nearly 40 percent of that group has injured their feet while playing, according to the survey.
- When buying an athletic shoe, parents should consider what activity the teen will use the shoe for. Different sports require different shoes, and choosing one made specifically for that sport can help prevent injury. Shop at a store that specializes in athletic footwear and have the shoe fitted professionally.
- Price is not indicative of quality, but all good athletic shoes need to offer plenty of support and cushioning. Shoes should be stiff across the middle, but bend at the ball of the foot. Like all shoes, athletic shoes should be comfortable right away, without any “breaking-in” period required for comfort.
- Because they’re still growing, teens should always get their feet measured before buying new shoes. Feet are usually not the same size, so buy for the larger foot. Because feet expand throughout the day, shop later in the afternoon, when feet are at their largest.
- While many teen boys virtually live in athletic shoes, girls may be more inclined to vary their wardrobe and wear dressy shoes, including high heels. More girls than boys suffer from pain due to uncomfortable shoes, and high heels are the most painful, with 64 percent of girls surveyed reporting they’ve experienced pain from high heels.
- Good shoes support both the front and back of the foot. While high heels are okay for special occasions, teenage girls probably shouldn’t be wearing them all day long. Instead of a high heel, consider flats, or—if a teen simply must have the added height—platform or wedge heels. Keep in mind if a heeled shoe is uncomfortable when the wearer is just standing in it, it’s not likely to feel any better when she’s walking in it.
- For both boys and girls, choose dress shoes that offer plenty of support and cushioning. Opt for breathable materials, like leather or canvas. Shoes should only bend at the ball of the foot; the sole should never be twistable or bend anywhere else. Look for plenty of room for toes and opt for shoes with wide, round, or square toe boxes. Pointed shoes can pinch toes, leading to a host of foot problems.
Teens who experience foot pain shouldn’t ignore it, Dr. Warkala warns.
“Fewer than two out of 10 teens have ever seen a podiatrist to treat foot problems,” he says. “Any kind of foot pain is not normal. Teens experiencing foot pain should request an appointment with your podiatrist who can help diagnose and treat their problem.”