Children’s feet – Children’s shoes

Science for everyday life


In 2001 we were commissioned by the Austrian Ministry of Health to conduct a study on the subject: “Children’s Feet-Children’s Shoes”.

The questions were formulated as follows:

Do Austrian children’s shoes fit properly?

Do poorly-fitting shoes cause damage to children’s feet?

What was investigated?

  • The fit of the outdoor shoes, house shoes and slippers of 858 children.
  • The health of the children’ s feet.
  • Parents were given a questionnaire about “Children’s feet – Children’s shoes”.

The sobering results

  • 69% of the children were found to be wearing outdoor shoes that were too short in length, 88% had house shoes or slippers which were too small (one child was wearing shoes 5 sizes too small!).
  • Only 3% of the children’s shoes had the correct inner length. For example: In shoes marked size 30, the inner length was just 29, 28, 27, sometimes even only size 26.
  • For the first time it could be proven that poorly fitting shoes actually cause damage to children’s feet (download publication: biomed_artikel.pdf).

What now?

  • In June of 2004, after a year of development, the “plus12“, the first precise measuring gauge for children’s feet and the inside length of children’s shoes, was put on the market. And the best part is: When measuring children’s feet, the plus12 automatically adds an extra 12 mm. Automatically ensuring the necessary length for a correct fit.
  • In May 2005, we received an extension of our research grant (Austrian Ministry of Health and “Fonds Gesundes ?sterreich”, the fund for a healthy Austria). This time we are really breaking new scientific ground. For the first time we will concentrate on how best to inform children, parents and educators, so that we can reduce the number of children wearing shoes that are too small.
  • Sooner than expected, the plus12 is getting quite a bit of international attention, mostly in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Great Britain. Another unexpected development: Our little measuring device is dividing shoe retailers into 2 opposing factions. On one side, the “traditionalists” are vehemently opposed to the inside length measurement of children’s shoes, claiming, “There hasn’t been one single complaint in the last 50 years”, and that “new-fangled nonsense like the plus12is completely unnecessary. It’s interesting to note that these retailers will even stoop to harassing parents who request a way to measure the inside length of their kids’ shoes. The other side is open to innovation: Many people are surprised to learn that a number of large shoe store chains are on our side. They have analysed the problem, reacted sensibly, and they recognize that the plus12 is a good solution. Here is the plus12)
  • The great success of plus12 enables our research team to pursue exciting questions and interesting projects without having to make lengthy requests for funding. In cooperation with ETH Zurich, the movement behavior of children’s feet is examined (barefoot, in socks, in soft and hard shoes), new products are created (2007: plus12 base, 2011: plus12 fit) and we regularly conduct online surveys for parents (from 2010). But we also have the opportunity to prove our endurance: in 2007 we started with an idea for innovative anti-slip children’s socks. We’re still working on that today (2012). What’s the problem with that? The children’s socks should get a certain shape and that seems to be difficult for the knitting machines of this world. But we are confident that we can also complete this project successfully. And what comes next? We will then probably think about a new generation of children’s shoes. Because there is still a lot to do …
    Details about our activities can be found at News.
  • But of course our research goes on: Too many children are still wearing shoes that are too short, and there are still no effective measures to fight this on a larger scale. We investigate and report …

Children’s feet are as soft and pliable as rubber

Therefore, they can be forced into shoes which are much too short.

Apart from this, their nervous systems are not fully developed, so it can be that children do not find the shoes uncomfortable, even when they are much too small.
Healthy feet need shoes that fit well. Tests have repeatedly shown that many children wear poorly- fitting shoes (See: Results of the Austrian Studies).
Sometimes the shoes are as much as 3 sizes too small, that is nearly 2 cm in length.

Poorly- fitting shoes are the main reason for foot damage!
To fit properly, shoes have to be at least 12 mm longer inside than the actual foot. New shoes can have additional “room to grow” of up to 17 mm.

Walking barefoot is best for kids’ feet, because it trains and strengthens the foot’s muscular system. A good, strong muscular foot is the best foundation for healthy, resilient children’s feet.


Badly fitting shoes are bad for kids’ feet.

The Austrian Research Project on “Children’s Feet-Children’s Shoes” proved for the first time that shoes which are too short can have negative effects on children’s feet (download publication biomed_artikel.pdf)
When children only rarely wear too-small shoes, there are no serious consequences to worry about (aside from reddened skin, blisters and painful feet). It gets worse when children’s shoes are always too small, during different stages of development. Also, children’s feet need “Shoe free time”.

The toe joints

Wearing shoes which are too short and tight distorts the natural position of the toes. The results: painful joints and changes in the position of the toe joints (e.g. Hallux Valgus, bunions).

Muscular system

When the toes are cramped in the shoes, it changes the natural direction of the toe muscles. The results: muscle and tendon pain, inflammation and a dystrophy, or shortening, of the foot muscles.

Vascular system

Shoes which are too short force the foot into an unnatural position, which can cause circulatory problems. The results: sensations of cold and numbness, vein problems (e.g. varicose veins).

The whole organism

A weak foundation influences the whole body. The change in posture caused by foot injuries can result in knee, hip and back problems. Even the heart and circulatory system can be indirectly affected: Fact is, many athletic activities require healthy feet (for example jogging). Unhealthy feet can therefore lead to a reduction in physical activity, which is known to be the root of a number of disease-causing factors (lack of fitness, high blood pressure, etc.).

Beautiful feet?

Lily feet

A particularly drastic example of how badly the foot’s development can be interfered with is the binding of girls’ feet in China.
Until the 1930s, tiny “lily feet” were considered beautiful in China. Little girls’ feet were bound to resemble a fist, the toes curled in until they pointed back towards the heel. After this treatment, women could only walk when accompanied, but at least they fulfilled the standards of beauty of their time.

Natural feet!

Acquired disorders of the foot are practically non-existent among tribal or indigenous peoples. Given that they wear no shoes, this is not surprising. Of course, the risk of injury or infection is higher if the foot is unprotected, but feet allowed to develop in this way are much stronger and more resistant.