Take Off Your Shoes and Walk

by Simon J. Wikler D.S.C.

[This is a fair-use extract of a wonderful, but long out-of-print book published in 1961 by Devin-Adair]


When I First Found the Answer

Aristocracy vs.
Barefoot Peasants

Modern Shoes & Deformed Feet

Shoes & Fatigue

Corrective Shoes
Cripple the Feet

Feet Constricted from Infancy

Children: "Born" with Flat Feet

Introduction: A New Approach to Foot Health

Burying Our Heads in the Sand

I began to understand the cause of fallen arches. With shoes constantly pressing the toes together, his body had to improvise a BRACE!

Since his body couldn't lean on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet now had to turn outward for balance.

How Shoes Cripple Our Feet

1- Discovering the Cause of Foot Trouble

Difficulties in Treating Foot Troubles without Knowing the Cause
Thousands of Theories
Barefooted and Healthy
A Little Boy Supplies the Answer
The Major Cause of Foot Trouble

Most Americans have poor feet and are unaware of it. Because of poor feet, countless Americans have posture distortions, are easily fatigued and become prone to degenerative illnesses.

I have discovered that it is easy, instead, to have strong healthy feet. I am going to tell you how, so you and your family will have good feet.

Difficulties in Treating Foot Troubles without Knowing the Cause

In 1933 1 graduated from Temple University School of Chiropody, trained as a foot specialist. I had been taught to relieve those who suffered from foot trouble; to pare their corns, calluses and ingrown toenails, and to bandage and pad their feet if they complained of soreness. But such treatment never cured anyone. Foot specialists could not prevent foot trouble, because its causes were not known.

This sad situation dissatisfied me and drove me to pursue my studies further. I read more books on the subject; I attended scientific meetings; I talked to leaders in the medical profession, but still I gained very little that would bring more permanent relief to my patients.

From 1935 to 1943 I was a member of the Lancaster Pennsylvania General Hospital Staff. In the clinic and in my office, most of the people who visited me had fallen arches to some degree. Treating their arches through massage and bandaging brought temporary relief to some but could cure none. Then, as now, commercial companies found it lucrative to supply arch supports for fallen arches. Unfortunately these supports rarely worked satisfactorily. People hoping to cure their trouble with such devices would go to one shoe store and doctor after another and end with a number of arch supports in their bureau drawers, all useless.

I asked an older physician on the hospital staff what he thought could be done to cure foot trouble. "Foot troubles are chronic conditions people have had for a long time," he advised. "You'll waste your time trying to find their cause and cure. Be content just to give people all the relief you possibly can."

Thousands of Theories

I talked with patients on every occasion, asking what they had done about their foot troubles. They found no cures. In more than 3,000 conversations with my patients I heard them describe every usual and unusual means of treating feet. Some had even put copper plates in their heels to get rid of static electricity, or slept with their feet pointing towards the North Pole to draw out tension magnetically.

Foot pains were not the only things for which people sought a cure. Foot trouble seemed to bring about fatigue and pain throughout the body. I was told, as chiropodists are told over and over again by weary patients, "When your feet hurt you hurt all over."

In the 1870's Father Sebastian Kneipp, an Austrian priest, became famous for a method of relieving fatigue -and its accompanying aches and pains. His treatment was to have people take off their shoes and walk barefooted in the morning dew. He ascribed the success of his treatments to the healing qualities of water.

In the early 1930's, Americans by the tens of thousands made pilgrimages to Canada for the "miraculous" foot manipulations of Dr. Mahlon Locke. There was such an interest in foot manipulation as a cure for fatigue that Temple University gave a course in it. I took the course and tried to improve my knowledge of foot manipulation by exchanging ideas with others. I still use foot manipulation on my patients with good results, but I realized even then that it could not cure foot trouble-nor reveal the causes.

Dr. Ralph W. Dye of Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, in the late 1930's, introduced a new method of correcting foot disabilities by continuous adhesive bandaging. His method of bandaging forced the patient to walk from heel to toe instead of rolling off the inner side of the foot as do people with fallen arches. With this treatment, cold bloodless feet received warmth through greater muscular activity; toe numbness disappeared; nerve reflexes that had been absent became restored. The beneficial changes were not limited to the feet. Posture improved. In some cases excessively large hips became smaller with less strained walking. I could no longer doubt that poor feet contributed to poor posture and associated illnesses. To know the cause and prevention of foot trouble would be important. Soon after, I came upon conclusive evidence about the cause of foot troubles.

Barefooted and Healthy

While visiting shipyards during the Second World War, I noticed that the newly recruited female construction workers wore the same loose-fitting high-topped shoes as the men-and they worked with more ease of movement than I had ever seen in American women. It seemed that their feet actually thrived without the support I had been taught they needed. I accumulated more evidence to reinforce this observation. In Puerto Rico, as I traveled about the interior of the island where many of the people are habitually barefooted, I was amazed to find that they all had straight, undeformed toes, unlike the shoe-confined toes I had seen and treated in the United States.

When I returned to my practice, I continued to use manipulation and bandaging methods in treating fallen arches, but there were decided disadvantages to this treatment.

For example, irritations resulted from using adhesive tape on sensitive skins for the many months required for effective treatment. I tried newly developed treatments such as molded shoes and balanced appliances, but people were frequently dissatisfied with the measure of relief they obtained-and they certainly were never cured. It became clear that seeking temporary relief from foot trouble was no way to solve the problem. What was needed was treatment or prevention based on knowledge of the causes. But what were the causes?

In medical libraries I read a number of studies which, together with what I had seen, proved to me that habitually barefooted people do not acquire our foot troubles. In the following years, I traveled through Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Haiti. Besides having sturdy toes and muscular feet, the people who were constantly barefooted did not have fallen arches. They had uniformly excellent posture -- and none with whom I spoke ever experienced being chronically tired. It was evident to me that some feature of shoes was causing foot trouble. But what was it?

I began to understand the cause of fallen arches. With shoes constantly pressing the toes together, his body had to improvise a BRACE!

Since his body couldn't lean on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet now had to turn outward for balance.

A Little Boy Supplies the Answer

I found the answer back in the United States, by working with a boy two-and-a-half years old. His toes were being forced together in narrow shoes and he walked with his feet pointed outward in the typical posture of a child with fallen arches. He tired easily, always wanted to be carried, and fell frequently when walking. I asked the boy's mother why she bought shoes which pushed the child's toes together in the shape of the toe of the shoe? This made his toes so weak he could hardly bend them. "You should buy shoes that are wide enough for him," I told her.

"I tried," she answered. "I took him to the best shoe store in town, and they gave him the widest pair of shoes in the store."

They were 6-EE. Although he did not have an extremely wide foot, the shoes pressed against the sides of the toes. The mother went back to the shoe store and asked for the widest pair of shoes that could be ordered -size 6-EEE.

These were just wide enough for the boy's feet to lie flat without being squeezed, but there was no room to spread the toes, and with foot growth the shoes would again jam the toes together. The heavy stiff leather and shoe shank did not allow the rest of the foot to move freely. Remembering the healthy feet and strong toes of the people who were constantly barefooted, I suggested the child wear no shoes for the rest of the summer.

I had ample opportunity to watch the boy's feet as he walked about that summer. I could not help wondering what, during his first two years of life, had ruined his feet, turned them outward, and caused him to walk with a fallen-arched gait. For months I watched every movement of his toes, each twist of his ankles, the way he lifted his feet, the manner in which his foot first made contact with the ground.

Then an amazing thing happened. He finally stopped leaning on his arches; he started to walk straighter and more normally. At last I began to understand the cause of fallen arches and the origin of foot trouble. With his toes continually pressed together in his shoes, his body had to improvise a brace-instead of leaning on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet were turned outward for balance. I realized then why people persist in leaning on their strained inner arches, which were never meant to support continuous leaning, and why they have to push off painfully from their arches instead of their toes, at the end of each step.

Going barefoot had made this boy's toe area broader and stronger. When he stood, his stronger toes were now able to spread out, giving him a broad forward area on which to support his weight. Now he used his toes in standing and walking-he would even stand on his toes frequently while playing. His fallen arches were cured. With better foot balance, he rarely fell. He no longer begged to be carried, and he seemed tireless in his activities.


The Major Cause of Foot Trouble

That was ten years ago. I have since examined thousands of children's and adults' feet, both in the United States and in foreign countries, determined to learn to what extent shoes can disable naturally healthy feet. I have conducted numerous tests in accredited hospitals and published my observations in widely distributed medical journals, presenting my views for the scrutiny and criticism of other doctors. There is now no question in my mind but that THE MAJOR CAUSE OF FOOT TROUBLE IS THE TYPE OF SHOES WE WEAR.

There is nothing astonishing about this theory. What is astonishing however, is that while the cause of foot trouble is so evident a child could understand it, few persons know about it. Most people continue to acquire permanently and unnecessarily deformed feet simply because of the evolution of a fashion which started a hundred years ago.


2 The History of Foot Trouble

High Heels and Pointed Toes in Court Society - Yearning for a Disabling Shoe - Fashionable Shoes Can Be Inexpensively Made - The New Sickness-Disabling a Population with Shoes - Saddle Shoes and the jitterbug -- "Flats" Start a Revolution - A Lesson to Be Learned

Foot trouble struck American and European urbanized populations about eighty years ago. It changed the patterns of all our lives-more radically than most of us realize. Suddenly we became a crippled race. How did it happen?

High Heels and Pointed Toes in Court Society

There is no record of foot troubles in Biblical times comparable to modern foot ills. In the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations it was practically unknown. Since people then wore the thong-type sandal, open at the toes, or often went barefoot, there was little chance for corns, calluses, ingrown toenails or fallen arches to develop. Where people continue to wear sandals today, as in the Far East and Central America, foot trouble is almost an unheard-of phenomenon. And even though Northern Europeans and North Americans, living in colder climates and needing to have their feet totally covered, have always worn closed shoes, foot trouble was uncommon among them also until the advent of the Industrial Revolution & mass-produced footwear.

The seeds of foot trouble were first sown, however, in the Renaissance when the elevation of the heel-the first characteristic of modern deforming footwear came into use. Catherine de Medici, a queen of short stature, wanted to appear taller, and had chopines put on her shoes, which elevated the entire foot so was not deforming in itself. But the elevated heel that followed forced the foot into a completely unnatural position.

A few centuries later heels became commonplace in court society and were worn by men and women alike, even though perpetual wearing of high heels caused shortened calf muscles. However, with the introduction of gunpowder and infantry warfare, men found it necessary to discard their high heels, while women continued to wear them.

About the same time that the heel came into usage, pointed-toed shoes became stylish. Early pointed toes differed somewhat from those seen today, in that they became pointed much beyond the foot-so far beyond the foot, indeed, that the long ends had to be fastened to the ankles or below the knees.

The introduction of the elevated heel and the pointed toe marked the beginning of modern foot disabilities - although during the period described, the majority of the population did not use these styles and had no appreciable foot trouble. Only the nobility could afford such shoes, and in those days, with sufficient servants to attend to one's needs and with carriages for transportation, a deforming shoe offered no great handicap. Working people did not wear a fashionable, constricting shoe which weakened and deformed the foot. Why, then, did such disabling footwear persist?

Before the French Revolution, nobility considered the broad, muscular, but competent, bare foot of the peasant working in the fields as common and ugly; especially since they themselves had no need for strong feet and legs. It was their esthetic ideal to have tiny feet and delicate lower limbs. The way to achieve this was to cultivate smaller feet in early childhood. Accordingly, children of the wealthier classes, from their earliest years, were forced to wear shoes designed to keep their feet small. Cinderellas had to be born among the wealthy.

Yearning for a Disabling Shoe

The "leisure class" was fated to disappear. The Revolution took place in France. In England the common man obtained more privileges, while in the United States democracy became a reality. Yet the average woman wanted to imitate the waning nobility. There could be no greater embodiment of her dreams of "being a lady" than to wear the tiny shoes of a woman of wealth. If people could have afforded to, they would all have bought small shoes for their children as the nobility had done. Here was the beginning of a great yearning for a deforming type of footgear.

In the early nineteenth century the makers of shoes knew only too well the people's desire for a tiny fashionable shoe. But it took two or three days for a well-paid craftsman to make a single pair of such shoes. The cotton gin and the steam engine were invented in this era of industrial progress, but the shoe still had to be laboriously made by hand. The easiest footgear to make was the boot, in which the upper leather needed only to be hand stitched to the sole. With the invention of the sewing machine, limited mass production was possible. The uppers now could be sewn by machine, and cobblers would then hand sew them onto the soles. The need, now, was for a machine that would attach the sole to the upper.

The growth of new industries and commerce created the wealthy middle classes in America and European cities. This class could afford hand-made shoes. Soon, their children's feet were being molded to resemble the tiny, delicate feet of aristocrats. For the bulk of the population however, feet remained large and healthy.

For example, a typical boy of a working class or farm family in the United States during the Civil War days was accustomed to go barefoot from spring to fall. Before starting school, he was sent to a cobbler who would make his shoes by hand, according to the measurements of each foot-leaving extra room for growth (since shoes were such a luxury) so that the child's foot was kept free of deformity.

Boots were so expensive that when it snowed a child would often run to school barefoot, with his precious shoes tied around his neck. When he got to school, he would dry his feet and put his boots on again, none the worse for his experience. This was the last period when children in the United States could reach maturity with the prospect of sound, healthy feet.

Fashionable Shoes Can Be Inexpensively Made

In 1858, Lyman R. Blake invented shoe machinery that could attach soles to uppers (the Mckay process). Overnight the United States had a new industry - manufactured shoes. Like the first five years of television, when practically everyone in the country began viewing television programs at regular intervals, the growth of the shoe industry was equally rapid. Age long dreams of inexpensive shoes came true. Within five years, shoe manufacturing had developed to a point where everyone could afford to wear the deforming shoes of an aristocrat.

Trying to explain to working girls that these new shoes were meant for leisure and not for standing behind counters and in front of kitchen sinks was like talking to someone in a delirium. To these women, what mattered corns, calluses, fallen arches, when they could don the dainty footwear of the wealthy? Overnight American women were trying to push their feet into Cinderella's tiny slippers. Not only the women, but the men, too, had to have the aristocratic pointed shoes.

In those years following the Civil War, shoes were not sold for their utilitarian value. Style, fashion, and exquisiteness of design were the characteristics emphasized - and that sold shoes. The French heel and the dainty line of the opera pump for women, and men bought the cut of the dancing slipper of the English nobility - and these shoes were worn for business. To sell shoes, manufacturers competed with each other in making shoes ever more "stylish." The toe of the shoe was shaped in a sharp point. When it was fitted over the normally squat toes, the toes were cramped into a space only one third or less their normal breadth. Never in the history of mankind had a population so willfully and so innocently disfigured a vital part of their body!

The New Sickness

In the 1880's Dr. George M. Beard published two books in which he described a new sickness-- exhaustive chronic fatigue -which was afflicting portions of American and Western European populations. The appearance of this illness, coincided with the advent of the newly manufactured shoe.

Dr. S. Wier Mitchell, in the 1900's, became famous for his treatment of this physical exhaustion (described in his book. which is still obtainable, Fat and Blood). Dr. Mitchell noted how healthy European immigrants would come to our shores only to be afflicted with the new illness. The exact causes of this chronic fatigue were unknown, but Dr. Mitchell and other scientists stated that shoes and other disabling types of clothing, such as corsets, were a cause.

Although books were written, sermons given, and crusades inaugurated to end the evil practice of wearing corsets which twisted the female into ridiculous shapes and crushed her ribs, lungs and abdominal organs, the crippling of the foot by modern shoes received much less notice.

Disabling a Population with Shoes

Wherever the newly manufactured shoes were worn, crippled feet followed. As a practicing chiropodist for over twenty years, I have seen the feet of scores of men and women who had worn these malformed products of the shoe industry.

The owner of such feet was often a woman - physically incompetent and so helpless that the least strain would cause her to faint. Doors had to be opened for her, chairs put under her when she sat down, and care taken not to disturb her delicate sensibilities and constitution.

Disabled feet were more a phenomenon of this country than of Europe. I recall as a child that boys who had come as immigrants from Europe were more sturdy and vigorous than my shoe-wearing playmates born here in the United States. Adults who had spent their childhood in Europe were frequently perplexed about the relative weakness of American-born children. As a child I heard my father ask, "Why are American-born children so physically inferior to European born?"

My father was born in a rural district in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was not until he was fifteen that he owned a pair of shoes. During the warm weather he went barefoot, and in the winter he wrapped a kind of burlap around each toe and over the foot; after that he put on a felt-type boot. Never in those years were his feet damaged. My father today, at seventy-five, has more physical vigor in his limbs and gets less tired than many shoe-crippled youngsters fifty years his junior.

Saddle Shoes and the Jitterbug

But shoes had taken a course toward non-crippling footwear. Young girls in the late 1930's had lost their reverence for queens and duchesses. They began to admire the athletic-type woman-the champion tennis player or Channel swimmer. To these adolescent products of the depression, the axiom that tiny feet made a lady was a fairy tale. The popular form of footgear was the two-toned oxford, or saddle shoe, which was sloppy and roomy-it became the style for high-school girls. For the first time in forty years a girl did not have to put on two-inch-high heels when she got to be fourteen or fifteen years old, as a badge of maturity.

The advent of jitterbug dancing also had an effect on the shoe styles of the day, since this dance required a good deal of acrobatics and could be performed best in a flat shoe. But doctors, shoe clerks, grandmothers, and even preachers-all opposed the new style of shoes for adolescents. A flat, broad-toed shoe, they said, was bad for the arches, and they predicted doom for these girls' feet. However, it was in this generation of women that I saw an approximation of normal feet for the first time in many decades. Grandmothers with gnarled toes would scold their grandchildren and insist no one could possibly walk without support in their shoes. Yet, those who disregarded that advice are the ones who have the better feet today.


"Flats" Start a Revolution

By the early 1940's the saddle-shoe wearers had grown to maturity. When a few manufacturers put out flat shoes as a novelty, these young women bought them all up and wanted more. The shoe industry predicted that the vogue for "flats" was a fad and would not last. They were wrong. In 1953 one store owner sold sixty per cent "flats" of all shoes sold, and his was a high-fashion shoe store. In 1940 only five per cent of his total sales had been in "flats." In cheaper shoe stores the percentages were much higher. Within a scant decade, women ceased being near-cripples and were on the way to normal feet once again.

A Lesson to Be Learned

How different it was when I first began my chiropody practice in 1933. Husbands used to bring their wives to my office complaining that the women were crippling their feet. The wives would explain that they could not go out in the street in flat-heeled shoes because it was unstylish-they would rather suffer pain than be comfortable. Whenever the subject of women's styles in footwear came up, people would throw up their hands in horror and say, "That's one subject you can't talk about reasonably with a woman." In the 1960's the situation is almost reversed. Wives now bring their husbands into my office and,, complain, "If only my husband would wear lighter shoes with broader toes, he would have less foot trouble."

3 - The Shoe Industry and Foot Health

"Corrective Shoe" Stores - . . . . .

Every child who wears present-day shoes has his feet distorted to some degree. However, there is another serious cause:

"Corrective Shoe" Stores

A professional looking and positive sounding shoe clerk says that your child has fallen arches and needs a corrective shoe. How are you to know this is true?

Most shoe merchants do their sincerest best for their customers considering our limited knowledge of foot health - others heartlessly use our lack of knowledge solely for profit. Characteristically they "find" something wrong with every child's foot . . . which then "needs" the merchants shoes. Increasing numbers of doctors are wary of these merchants. Some practitioners, who have no definite knowledge of shoes, may send a worried mother to them in good faith.

A typical case is that of Susie R. As a toddler, she had a normal low arch and walked slightly flat footed as all toddlers do. Heavy corrective shoes were put on her feet. After wearing the stiff supportive shoes for several months her feet became weak. Then when she wanted to go barefoot her feet were so tender and the muscle so weak that it was painful. She was still able to walk with the supportive shoe, however, since the walking was done without any flexible foot action whatever. Her mother was certain Susie's feet were bad in the first place, so now Susie continues to go to the same merchant and buy the same expensive shoes. Susie will be a foot cripple as long as she lives. A child's foot can never grow properly with an unending reshaping of its complex structure which these shoes create.

No child is ever fitted in these stores without having at least some "correction" in their shoes.

I spent a day in such a shoe store observing the operation. "How can you sell these corrective shoes," I asked the owner. "You insist on the necessity of 'arch cookies,' 'cuboids,' 'metatarsal supports,' and so on-yet from the continuous complaints of customers, you know that these supports are of no help to the feet. How do you justify this?"

"It's a wonderful living," the owner commented. "Besides, I always instruct them to do certain exercises. They never do them. When they complain too much about their feet, I say, 'Well, did you do the exercises?' That usually shuts them up."

A "corrective" shoe store, besides carrying the usual supportive devices, includes shoes which hold the foot rigid or force the foot to grow sharply inward or outward permanently.

This is particularly unfortunate because it is established that babies' feet left to grow naturally will be normal.

. . . . . . . . .


5 Preventing Children's Foot Trouble

Preventing Foot Troubles of the Pre-walking Infant

You who are parents have probably noticed your child constantly spreading, bending, stretching his fingers and toes from the first weeks of life. You would not think of keeping your baby from moving his hands and wiggling his fingers. You would not swaddle his hands and fingers. Why, then, swaddle his feet and toes?

Toes which are not given opportunity for exercise in the very early years may never develop properly - nor can any later treatment ever fully restore their proper functioning. Unfortunately, most American parents damage their infants' toes and feet in the first weeks of life by depriving the child of the chance to move his feet freely. By keeping anything tight or constricting off your baby's feet, you will have already started him on the way to foot health.

No Pre-walking Shoes

Do not buy pre-walking shoes for your baby. They seriously impede the natural movements of the infant's foot. Whenever you see a bronzed pair of baby shoes, know that it is a symbol of damage to some baby's foot. In warm weather, the baby should play barefooted in a play pen. When he starts to creep and crawl on the carpeted floors, he should be allowed to crawl barefooted.

Avoid Arch-support Features

Look inside the shoe. If the salesman says it is an "arch" shoe, or if it is so labelled, that does not mean it is supportive. Some manufacturers falsely use the words "arch support" in their shoes, all of them deforming. Any shoes with arch support features are to be avoided.

Severest deformities from shoe pressures occur before four years of age when bones are softest.

Going Barefoot Is a "Must" for Young Children

It is not enough that children's feet be free from deforming shoes-foot health also depends upon going barefoot in order to develop agility and strength in the feet.

Fortunately, children can go barefoot most frequently in life during the first five years, while they do not yet attend school. These years are the most important in foot development. Children under five who go barefoot, if watched closely by their parents, are unlikely to walk where they will cut their feet or do themselves harm. Moreover, if they go barefoot frequently, they will soon develop tough, protective skin on the bottom of their feet. Skin thus developed is soft and has no callus but will give much protection. You have read accounts in the newspapers of international track stars winning races over cinder tracks barefooted - a normal capability of the human foot, though a constantly shoe-wearing "tenderfoot" is unable to understand it..

. . .

Fortunately, customs are changing again. In California and Florida it has become popular for children in larger cities to go barefoot. It has always been popular in Hawaii. Children in the suburbs of Eastern cities are going barefoot in the summer.

Are you afraid your child will injure his feet playing if he goes barefoot? In Hawaii children and grownups play football in their bare feet. There are a great many such football teams, called the "Barefoot Leagues."

Are you afraid he will catch cold if he goes outdoors with his feet uncovered? In a children's institution in Eggenberg, Austria, some years ago, the director, unable to afford shoes, had the boys and girls go barefoot throughout the winter - sometimes in deep snows. They were none the worse for the experience, and they developed a much greater immunity to colds than children in the same village who wore shoes.

Are you concerned with what neighbors will think about your child going barefoot? One summer I examined the children's feet in an orphanage in Baltimore. The shoes which had been provided were so ill-fitting that I suggested to the woman in charge it would be better to let the children go barefoot. "I agree," she replied, "but visitors seeing orphan children barefooted will protest, 'The poor children are not even being given shoes!' " Surely your child need not be bound by such artificial notions of well-being.

Do you live in the city, where children do not ordinarily have the opportunity to go barefoot? Then you should make it a habit to have your child take his shoes off when coming in from the street. Let him go barefoot.

If you had the occasion to examine as many feet as I have, you would instantly be able to detect those who have had the opportunity to go barefoot as children. The suppleness and strength in their feet makes their appearance distinctive. "You went barefooted often as a child!" I frequently tell people I have never seen before. They look at me surprised, but invariably they say, "Yes." I add, "You never tire easily, do you?" The answer is almost always, "No, never."

. . . . . .


6 - Care of Fallen Arches in Children

Flat Feet and Fallen Arches in Infants and Toddlers Are Normal - Leave the Arches of Flatfooted Infants and Toddlers Alone - . . . - Post-toddlers' Fallen Arches - Fallen Arches: Ages Three to Five . . . Four-fold Foot Care for Children's Arches

To prevent an infant from acquiring fallen arches, the single most important thing a parent can do is to leave shoes off their feet as much as possible during the first eighteen months. Consider the following analogy:

Imagine putting heavy leather mittens on an infant's hands from the first months of life, leather mittens which fit snugly, so that the child's fingers are pressed together so tightly he can hardly move them. The mittens are kept on his hands all day, and are taken off only for sleeping at night, for naps in the afternoon and baths once a day. When the child is in the crib we are careful to make sure his hands are tucked so tightly he cannot move his fingers freely. When he wakes in the morning, we immediately put cotton mittens on his hands and place the heavier leather mittens snugly over his fingers once again - day after day.

After two years, during which time the child has hardly ever had the chance to wiggle his fingers, we expect him to begin holding a spoon and cup. He is unable to do it, because all those complex muscles which should have been developing are undeveloped and unused.

Suppose we keep this system up until he is sixteen? It would be ridiculous to expect him to be able to play a violin, use a typewriter, or do anything well with his fingers for the rest of his life, for he would never have developed the muscles he should have during his formative years.

We do just that to babies' feet. Is it any wonder so many of us do not have the strength to stand and walk straight?

Flat Feet and Fallen Arches in Infants and Toddlers Are Normal

Babies appear to have flat feet because of the thick layer of baby fat present in every infant's arch, which is normal and necessary. From this fat, babies muscles and bones absorb nourishment as they grow. It starts disappearing late in the third year, but until then every baby normally has low arches.

Additionally, when baby first starts to walk, he stands with his feet pointed out in a fallen -arched manner in order to balance himself. For a toddler this is normal. When a few months later, he acquires strength (if his feet have not been weakened and distorted by shoes), he will by himself abandon the fallen-arched gait and stance.

Leave the Arches of Flatfooted Infants and Toddlers Alone

Many parents inadvisedly buy corrective shoes for their infants "to correct their flat-footedness." After the child wears these shoes for a year or more his feet become distorted, and such measures seem to have been justified. Parents who have fears about their toddler's feet should wait until he begins to walk firmly and with assurance; only then can real arch defects of the foot be recognized and corrected. Do not make the harmful mistake of treating your infant's or toddler's "fallen arches" when his flat feet are normal to him and should be left alone.

. . . . .

. . . . A fourth misconception is that it is not good for a child to have short, square feet, as he will surely have fallen arches. Actually, that is how undeformed feet should look, but since children's feet are so commonly deformed, even most doctors hardly ever see a normal pair and the myth continues. The recent influence of physicians and pediatricians to encourage young children to go barefoot is forcing shoe manufacturers to make older children's shoes in EE and EEE widths. Formerly they made mostly A's and B's. But these broad feet are not "spread" - they have just been allowed to grow as wide as they should naturally grow.

Post-toddlers' Fallen Arches

After your toddler has begun to walk firmly, if he really has fallen arches, simply put aside all his shoes and stockings and allow him to walk barefooted.

In a few weeks his toes will become fatter and stronger. Gradually the child will put his weight on his toes instead of his arches. Soon he will walk with his toes pointing straight ahead, and play about the house with more spring and agility on his feet. . . . .

. . . . .

Fallen Arches: Ages Three to Five

Treatment for fallen arches of these children is also readily successful, but it takes a little longer. The recovery is often as rapid and spectacular as in the following severe case of a four-year-old girl.

A mother brought her into my office. The girl was wearing such stiff arch-support shoes that she could not possibly move her feet inside them. Being tiny, she could not bend the inflexible leather of the shoes with her feet. Upon taking off her shoes, I saw that her feet were mostly bones with very little flesh and muscle on them.

While still an infant, the mother, following one of the local advertisements had bought the child corrective arch shoes. The little girl had begun to cry at night because of pains in her legs. During the day she fell frequently while walking, and she whimpered constantly.

I advised the mother to discard her child's shoes and let her walk barefooted at all times. In a week the girl stopped crying. Her toes became perceptibly less scrawny. During the second week she was walking straighter. By the end of the sixth week, she stopped having pains in her legs at night. She slept soundly, ate better, grew three quarters of an inch, and her feet had become much more muscular and sturdy.

That little girl needed no professional treatment though her arches had been badly damaged. The same is true for most children under six who have fallen arches - walking barefooted appears to be all that is necessary for recovery. Moreover, their skin is sensitive to adhesive tape, and specialized treatment such as steel braces on shoes (Dennis-Browne night splints) can cause harm by restricting the exercise the child normally gets in thrashing his feet and legs about while in bed. There is no harm to await professional treatment -bandaging and exercise - until after the child is six. In any case let him go barefoot and nature will probably make professional care unnecessary.

. . . . . . .

Four-fold Foot Care for Children's Arches

Helpful as professional care may be, more important is the care practiced by the parents at home. To restate, treatment must involve:
First, be aware that shoes distort the feet. Do not buy them for the child before he really needs them;
then fit them properly.
Second, do not wait for the child to complain about foot pains before you see if his shoes are distorting his feet.
Third, the child must be given the opportunity to go barefoot for a part of the day, preferably three hours a day.
Fourth, you may additionally supervise and encourage the child in doing the foot-strengthening exercises just outlined.

. . . . .


From chapter 7

- General Foot Care for Children

. . . . .

Sweating Feet

An active child's feet are always in a sweat; sweat is nature's way of getting rid of bodily waste, and cooling the body at the same time by evaporation. But nature never intended us to keep our feet overheated, covered with stockings and heavy leather shoes all day so the sweat cannot evaporate.

Accumulated sweat is accumulated waste which decays on feet which are covered. The child who wears shoes all day would need to bathe and change his socks twice a day, in order to keep his feet fresh. The barefooted child whose feet are soiled with dirt from lawns or floors of the house, would in this sense have cleaner feet than a child who has worn a shoe and stocking all day.

In most cases sweating is either from too much and too heavy footwear, or from the strain of fallen arches. With fallen arches, the feet must work harder to walk; they therefore sweat more. The first thing that clears up in treating children's fallen arches is excessive sweating. If yours is the rare child whose feet over-sweat naturally and are tender, use a tablespoon of alum to a gallon of warm water. Have him soak his feet in this solution for fifteen minutes at night, for several nights, and the excessive sweating will be relieved long enough to allow skin macerations to heal up.


Part of Chapter 13 . . .

Findings from Examination of 441 Children's Feet

(The book provided detailed results from an extensive study performed between 1957 and 1960)

. . .

(Many tables and results omitted)

. . .

Barefooted Children Have Better Feet

Many mothers told us they objected to their children going barefoot because of the danger of catching colds, injuries, lack of support for the feet, dirtiness, feet growing large, etc.

TABLE 10 - children's feet were:
Mothers who objected to their children going barefoot
9 44 50 6 0
Mothers who had no objection to their children going barefoot
0 2 21 16 13

E - Excellent feet
G - Good feet
F - Fair feet
P - Poor feet
VP - Very poor feet
(Each mother was asked, but only those with strong opinions for or against going barefoot were counted.)

As was evident from Table 7 (not shown here) , children who had the opportunity of going barefoot a great deal, had less deformed toes, greater flexor strength, more ability to spread the toes. They also had denser muscles on the bottom of the feet; greater agility than those who had never gone barefoot, with a wider range of hip circumduction and more flexibility of the gluteal and hamstring muscles, and therefore, more ability to touch the toes when the knees were held stiff.

Reference: www.unshod.org/pfbc/toysawfl.htm

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