I do not pretend to be a pediatric, podiatrist or orthopedic specialist, but I think this question about kids' running shoes needs to be raised.
Too many running shoes for kids on the market today are simply smaller versions of the same kinds of shoes that the company sells to adults. They have raised horses, and lots of cushioning and support. I suspect they're not quite as durable, because the company knows the child will grow out of them before putting in the same kind of mileage that serious adult runners do, but the point is they still treat children's feet as if they were small grownups .
That concerns me, because in the adult market there's a growing trend towards barefoot running. Often “barefoot” does not mean totally barefoot, but wearing a minimal type of shoe such as Vibram Five Fingers or Nike Free. These protect the bottoms of feet from wear and tear of running on concrete, broken glass and rusty nails, but do not provide any support or cushioning.
This makes it easy for the runner to land on their forefoot or midsole, as many experts advise.
Ordinary running shoes demand running by landing on your heel. I ordinarily wear Brooks Beast – a style of shoe designed to give a lot of support to flat feet and to prevent pronation. I had not paid attention before, but I do land on my heels. When I tried to change to a forefoot landing, it looked very odd and unnatural, and I could not keep it up.
Yet, just go out to a field of grass and run barefoot. You will automatically land on your forefoot, because landing on your heel without the cushion cushioning you're used to is quite painful.
The type of running shoe we've gotten used to wearing since Nike first came out with them in 1972 has a raised heel, and lots of support and cushioning.
There's a growing belief among runners and orthopedic experts that this kind of shoe is not protecting their feet at all, but rather creating more injuries than they prevent. According to studies, up to seventy or eighty percent of all runners – weekend jocks as well as serious ultramarathoners – suffer a running injury every year.
Studies also show that there's a correlation between your chance of injury and the price of your running shoes. The higher the cost of your shoes, the more likely you are to suffer an injury.
Nike came out with their free shoes because a track team they were sponsoring preferred to go barefoot than wear Nike shoes. That's embarrassing, so they studied the problem, and did intensive tests and videos to show how barefoot runners land on their midsole, and their arch absorbs the shock.
The old attitude was that flat feet were something you were born with, and so if you had them, you just had to wear shoes with a lot of arch support. I know this well, because my feet are flat and as a child I was forced to wear big heavy clunky leather shoes to give me that arch support my feet supposedly needed.
But now some experts are saying that's putting things backward. Flat feet are caused by having lower leg and feet muscles that are too weak to hold the feet in the optimal arched position. The solution is to walk (and run) barefoot (or nearly so) to strengthen those muscles.
At least one runner out there claims to have used foot exercises to improve his arch, going from a flat-footed size 13 (like me), to a well-arched 9 or 10.
This may not work for those of us who have a lot of flatfooted years. But it seems misguided these days to keep children's feet boxed in.