The most unique and possibly definitive effect on the development of gait is shoes. Children need to be able to push off at the balls of their feet in order to learn or develop a proper gait so they should not wear shoes of any kind until they are walking well. This is typically around 15 months to 2 years of age. In the meantime, socks should be worn for protection of the feet and warmth.
When ready for shoes, they should have soft, flexible soles so that the child is still able to push off the balls of the feet correctly and walk with a proper gait.
Remember that most toddlers will grow an average of half a shoe size every four months and starting around the age of three they will grow half a shoe size every six months. Be sure that their shoes are always properly fitting in order to promote a healthy gait.
There are many popular brands and designs of shoes that will negatively affect gait which may have long term effects on the body including the spine. UGGs and flip flops (due to their flat, thin soles) are examples of such brands and designs.
UGGs have little to no arch support and are very loose-fitting, meaning that people slog around in them. Their ankles will roll inward and arches and tendons will collapse with each step or, in order to avoid the previous stated effects, wearers will drag their feet making that irritating foot-dragging sound called the “UGG shuffle” by the Urban Dictionary. Flip-flops similarly affect the gait because the wearer takes shorter steps and grips the shoe with their toes. Whether loafers, business shoes or some form of athletic shoe (running shoes, tennis shoes, etc.) the best shoes require good arch support, ankle support, and a shock absorbing sole and heel.
Benefits of Inserts
Research has shown that one possible cause of back pain is abnormal body biomechanics; an improper gait can actually affect the rotation of the bones in the legs and hips which, especially after long distances, can result in back pain or discomfort.
A pilot study in 2011 showed that it is feasible for the use of shoe orthotics to reduce low back pain and discomfort. In one biomechanical study, customized shoe orthotics immediately improved the amount of work required to walk (or the economy of the gait) and maintained it for 4 weeks.
If an improper gait is the result of illness or injury then be sure to speak with a professional before looking into inserts. However, if you would like to improve your gait then ask your Family Wellness Chiropractor to recommend a reputable source of custom-made shoe orthotics or inserts.