POLOLO retailers‘ lecture evening in the POLOLO ShowRoom on learning to walk

In June 2019, we had our lecture evening on “Child Foot Development” with the physiotherapist and children’s therapist Silke Lucht in our POLOLO ShowRoom. Thank you to everyone who attended – it was an interesting and enjoyable evening – and we look forward to more gatherings. If you are interested in attending further lectures with us, please do not hesitate to contact us. For those who could not attend, here is our summary:

Being allowed to be small: Give babies and toddlers enough time!

Especially in today’s hectic, fast-paced and performance-pressured world, we should all make sure that we give babies and toddlers enough space to “be small” for a while.
For healthy early childhood development in the run-up to crawling and learning to walk, it is important to make motor and sensory experiences on the floor first. This is because one’s own body must be extensively explored and the environment intensively felt in order to create an image of oneself and the world in the brain:
For example, healthy children like to examine their little feet – they put them in their mouths to feel them, and at the same time train their muscles through the stretching movements involved. They also rub the soles of their feet together to develop a natural body feeling.

Fall down and get up again and again!

Some adults can’t wait to see their offspring walk as early as possible – and would like to give help to support them. However, it is better for the little ones to be allowed to experience sensorimotor development “without gaps”, because that is also the exciting part of growing up!
Each individual learning progress, which also involves effort and mistakes, must be experienced by the children themselves. We adults should therefore not necessarily prevent failed attempts – we should rather encourage our little ones to try again and again. All “milestones” of early childhood development must first be “collected” so that a young child receives a solid foundation for further growth.
An important intermediate step in this process is pulling oneself up, e.g. on the edge of a table, with the first steps to the side. Falling down, slipping and then getting up again – this is also part of the learning process. Therefore, shoes should not be too slip-resistant or even have too firm a sole. Because that is irritating. This would also pass on the wrong information to the brain. You have to learn that you can slip on slippery or sloping surfaces. That is part of growing up!

Walking barefoot is important!

In order to avoid misalignments caused by shoes that are too tight or too wide, under-exertion and atrophying or incorrect strain on the muscles and connective tissue, but also the isolation of the senses from the environment, it is beneficial to let the little ones walk barefoot or in soft leather shoes as often as is reasonable.
Street shoes have only two functions for healthy feet: Protection from injury and prevention of hypothermia. Feeling the changing surfaces (e.g. grass, sand, gravel, bark, but also laminate, tiles, carpet, etc.) on the paths outside or inside is immensely important for self-perception and interaction with the environment.
The recommendation to walk barefoot as often as possible also applies to adults. They should also pay more attention to their feet – care for them regularly and exercise them in order to do something good for their overall health!

Working out challenges yourself – the journey is the goal!

Parents should look at their little ones’ exploration of the world from their point of view – “The journey is the destination!” Leisure and patience are required as well as the willingness, for example, not to necessarily rely on a specific destination to be reached or an exact time for an excursion.
Silke Lucht pointed out that toddlers should also feel free to alternate the means of transport, because using only, for example, running wheels is wonderful for balance, but could, for example, lead to one-sided strain on the front feet if used continuously. “Why not get out the good old tricycle again?” The reciprocal pedalling and the simultaneous steering are very beneficial for the child’s development.
Patience is also required when playing and trying things out: Children should not be put on the slide, for example, but should first work out the height themselves – supervised by adult companions, of course – in order to be able to develop a feeling for distances and also dangers.

Parents are called upon: Conservative treatment options for foot malpositions

Lucht showed the transverse and longitudinal arches of the foot, which first have to develop, as children up to about three years of age still have a fat cushion there. With their springy effect, the arches have a protective function for the spine of people who walk upright, which is why undesirable developments should definitely be corrected.
Using the foot bone models she had brought along, she explained various foot deformities, such as the so-called bent, club and sickle feet, and emphasised the advantage of correction without surgery with the active involvement of the parents, who, however, would have to take a lot of time for this: They are then intensively required to train together with their child regularly in the physiotherapeutic practice and several times a day also at home.
Another foot deformity that is now spreading among children is hallux valgus – a deformation of the metatarsophalangeal joint of the big toe. In this case, the base of the big toe deviates outwards, and the other toes are squeezed because the tip of the big toe is tilted inwards. According to Lucht, a major cause of this malpositioning of the toes is shoes that are too tight.

Recommendations for parents and shoe sellers

Parents surely wanted the best for their little ones – but “well meant” is not necessarily “well done”. Over-cautious as well as over-ambitious parents could rather disturb the healthy development of a baby than promote it. A healthy young child needs enough time and freedom to play and try things out, so that when it transitions from kindergarten to primary school, it can fluently perform age-appropriate movement patterns such as walking backwards, hopping on one leg only, the “jumping jack”, etc.
If a shoe salesperson notices a possible malposition during the consultation, she should not make a diagnosis herself – but she should certainly recommend that parents seek physiotherapeutic advice.
A tip for buying children’s shoes: To determine the actual size required, the children can be placed upright on a piece of cardboard to create a template and the contours of both feet can be traced vertically with a pencil – a thumb’s width should be added for the length so that the feet can roll in a relaxed manner (measurement is best taken in the afternoon, as foot size fluctuates during the course of the day). Shoes that are too small lead to an impeded rolling motion, shoes that are too big lead to unergonomic cramping and “clawing”. Therefore, shoes should never be “stocked up”, but only bought to fit.

The “ideal shoe”…

When asked about her wishes for an “ideal shoe”, Lucht again emphasised that shoes for healthy people should only “protect, not support”. She described as “ideal” shoes that are soft and deformable in relation to all axes, so that all foot muscles are regularly challenged.
The sole in particular should be soft. For healthy children, it would be counterproductive to use an orthopaedic sole or a pre-formed footbed – heels should also be avoided for the sake of health.
On the professional background of the lecturers: Silke Lucht completed her training as a state-recognised physiotherapist in Berlin in 1992, then gained experience at the Großhadern Clinic in Munich and then also worked there as a physiotherapist until 2001 – most recently as head of the interdisciplinary team in surgery. Since 2002, she has been working independently in her own practice in Berlin-Lichterfelde.

Photo: With the new POLOLO Barefoot "Ballerinas" very close to the barefoot running feeling