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If the shoe fits...

Buying Football Cleats for Your Child

"If the shoe fits"

by: Dr. Myron Wolf, Foot & Ankle Surgeon, Alexian Brothers Medical Center, Elk Grove Village, IL

Buy shoes for your athlete at the end of the day or after a workout. The best fit of shoes occurs when the feet are at their worst – swollen and tired. If the cleat feels good at that time, then you know it will feel good always.

Measure both feet, standing up, bearing full weight. Feet may vary in size, so always fit the bigger or larger foot.

You should measure feet with football socks on. These socks tend to be padded and thicker.

Allow for wiggle room. There should be 1/4" to 1/2" from the end of the longest toe to the end of the shoe. Remember, the second toe can be the longest digit. Pressing on the big toe isn't an accurate way of checking this as it causes a reflex of curling and can cause the toe to seem shorter than it really is. ideally, take out the insole and have your child stand on it and check the amount of insole that goes beyond their toes.

Lace the shoes properly. The top eyelet should be used for maximum support and snugness; however, over tightening can cause pain or numbness at the ankle.

Check for snug heels. "Flip-flopping" out of the back of the shoe is unacceptable and dangerous.

Have your child walk around the store in the shoes and ask them how they feel. When removing the shoes, remove their socks and check for any red or wrinkled areas.

Expect immediate comfort. Newer shoes and cleats no longer need to be broken in. They should feel good right away.

Younger children may not be able to tell you how a shoe feels or fits. They may simply say that something hurts, and provide few details. It is important to ask, since they may not offer the information. In some cases, the pain may be the result of something as small as some extra fabric or socks bunching up.

In very young children, whose feet tend to be thicker across the top, shoes may appear to fit because the toes have room, but still too tight through the bridge or middle of the foot.

Picking the right type of shoes

The best materials remain leather, suede and canvas mixes. These are the most durable and breathable materials. Lately, more and more shoes combine nylon grid structures which are also acceptable.

Always pick the proper shoe for the sport. Soccer and baseball cleats are not the same as football.

Factors when choosing cleats

Cleats can cause problems in young players, especially in ages 9-13, when there are not enough cleats on the heel. This can lead to excess pressure and heel pain. Look for shoes with multiple cleats on the heel to help alleviate this problem.

In order to reduce kneww and ankle injuries, it may help to choose shoes with short cleats, no more than 1/2" long for younger players.

If the shoe doesn't fit

Poor fitting shoes can cause a number of problems, including:

  • Blisters
  • Curling or Clawing Toes
  • Bunions
  • Corns
  • Calluses
  • Pinched Nerves
  • Ingrown Toe Nails

Besides causing pain and discomfort that can affect athletic performance, the wrong size shoes can result in foot problems and further injuries down the road. If your child has foot pain that persists 12 hours after they take off their shoes, you should see a doctor in case there is potentially a more serious problem.

Orthotics or Shoe Inserts: Are they Necessary?

While inserts are the latest rage, I feel that in most cases over the counter inserts can be as effective as custom-molded ones. If your child continues to have discomfort in spite of good shoes and socks, they may need extra supports. Each child needs to be checked individually.

Children who are likely to benefit the most from inserts are those who:

  • Over-pronate (feet and toes point inward)
  • Have flat feet (no visible arch when the child is weight bearing)
  • Have shin splints (toe walkers)
  • Are experiencing arch pain or strain

For children needing extra ankle support, look for shoes offering heel stability. High arches account for more ankle sprains/rolls and need a stable shoe with a high top or higher profile.