Barefoot in Japan


A normal way of life for most children

It is a Japanese tradition that children attend school barefoot. Throughout Japan it is customary to remove shoes in all homes and most other buildings. Even in gyms you are required to remove your shoes and put on a different pair that is only worn inside.

In an effort to keep up with modern ideas it was proposed that in Japanese schools children would begin to wear shoes inside. The idea of this move to wearing shoes in school led to uproar. The majority of Japanese parents felt that barefoot kids were healthier kids. A comparision study was done between schools that used inside shoes versus schools where the children attended school and played barefoot.

The playgrounds in both schools had a soft, sandy soil that was created to stimulate the soles of the children’s feet. The idea was that if the feet were strong the ankles were strong, then the knees were strong all the way up to the head. The school’s playground toys (Jungle Gyms) had toe and finger holds to help strengthen the body. Schools have a hands free foot washing station for when they returned to classroom. Since the feet were open to air there was little to no occurrence of foot fungus. Something thought of as a foreign disease. To grow fungus you need a moist dark warm place such as a shoe. It should also be noted that in the bathrooms separate sandals used only in the bathroom were placed. Japanese are famous for being a clean people.

The result of the study was the barefoot kids had higher grades, much lower absenteeism, less frequency of colds, and enjoyed school more. Also vandalism was much lower. It seems barefoot kids don’t break things (woohoo). Japanese kids are required to clean their own schools. They learn team work, discipline, cleanliness, personal space responsibility and it reduces janitorial fees.

Japan is not the only culture to realize the benefits of going barefoot it would seem, studies of cultures that never wear and have never worn shoes have found no foot problems outside congenital and injuries. It seems there is less jarring of the back and less back problems with those raised barefoot.

More and more studies are alluding that natural and unshod is better. Allowing your children’s feet (and your own) the freedom to move freely and develop as they should is clearly the best option.

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

The Foot Health Foundation

twitter @tracyabyrne


Bunions: Is there any avoiding them?

According to new research, if there is a family history of bunions (bony growths on your big toe) you’re chances of developing the pesky critters may be slightly increased.

First things first though, the most important question about bunions, are they painful? Yes bunions are ugly, but they are not always painful. Often we see this deformity and assume it must be the most painful thing in the world. Rest assured though, frequently, the bump looks worse than it feels.

While shoes are not solely (excuse the pun) to blame, the correct footwear can go a long way to helping ensure that history is not doomed to repeat itself. Shoes will often progress or aggravate the underlying disorder. In a few unlucky individuals, the biomechanical imbalance is so severe that they have a bunion at a very young age. Unfortunately there are no therapies that will turn back time on a bunion. Therefore it is important to make sure preventative measures are in place.

Ideally when purchasing shoes for little ones parents should consider

The width of the toe box
Those little feet need room to grow and space to do so

Flexible sole
Children need to get used to moving around and finding their natural range of motion, this can help to build up and strengthen joints.

Top Tip: Ballet has been well documented as putting additional pressure on the joint and may increase the chance of bunions developing. If your kids love to dance maybe try a style that’s more foot friendly as written about in our previous post.

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

The Foot Health Foundation

twitter @tracyabyrne

6 Tips for Buying Green This Christmas

Christmas is ‘totally unsustainable’ to be put in the words of Liberal Democrats’ greens spokesman, Chris Huhne.  Approx 125,000 tons of plastic packaging will be dumped to landfill once the Brits have done their merry celebrating. But you can choose to buy eco-friendly toys for your kids this Christmas, reducing the environmental impact caused by the silly season, whilst still keeping it silly! Buying eco-friendly toys is also much better for the health of your children.

  1. Look for PVC-free – the long term side effects of gnawing on PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is still unknown but all evidence suggests it can’t be good! PVC pollutes the environment all the way through its life cycle from production to disposal. Luckily, there are lots of brands and companies doing PVC free toys now.
  2. Wood is gooduntreated, unpainted wood is safe to chew. Wooden toys last longer than plastic and can be passed on to the next generation! Look for FSC certification as this ensures the wood is forested responsibly. Check out this rendition of the classic Rocking Horse! Now, that’s a cool toy!  (
  3. Battery Free - Brits throw approx 22,000 tonnes of UK household batteries to landfill each year! Could your child be just as entertained with a simpler toy? It will also reduce the noise pollution in your living room. For the older ones that absolutely must have the newest electronics, look into rechargeable batteries to eliminate waste.
  4. Nature is a carbon-neutral toy Planting a tree. Playing hide and seek. Building castles in the sandpit.  You probably have strong memories of playing outside with your friends and family when you were young, and your children should too. Plus, it’s far better exercise than the X-box.
  5. The joy of second have a huge range of second hand toys, searchable by location and all in good condition. It’s also a good way to sell your kiddies’ outgrown stuff.
  6. Sometimes it’s not what’s in the box Next time you think about throwing away the box from your latest John Lewis purchase (eco of course!), think of it as a potential arts and crafts project for your kids! Boxes can provide hours of family fun. 

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

The Foot Health Foundation

twitter @tracyabyrne

Strength Training in Children: How to do it Safely

Children should not lift heavy weights; a body weight training program is beneficial

For parents of children involved in competitive sports, whether team sports like football or volleyball, or solo sports like swimming and running, many questions arise about what level of training is healthy, both psychologically and physically.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that putting too much pressure on a child to become a star athlete may result in both physical and emotional injury. A child should enjoy playing a sport, but if forced, could be turned away for a lifetime. Make sure your child’s heart is in it too.

When it comes to training for sports, a strength training program will help decrease the likelihood of injury. Building stronger supporting muscles can have a significant impact on injury prevention. There are mixed messages about whether strength training is safe for children, so in this article I’ve separated fact from myth.

  • If a strength training program is implemented and progressed correctly, there is no age limit
  • always warm up with joint mobility and dynamic stretching exercises and cool down with a stretch program
  • use body weight only, or light resistance bands
  • body weight exercises include burpees, sit ups, press ups, chin ups, dips, plank, bicycle legs, leg raises, skipping
  • if the exercise can not be performed correctly at least eight times, it is too difficult and should be altered
  • as body weight programs do not require extra equipment, utilise the natural environment to finds areas to perform the exercises (less hassle for you too!)
  • single leg exercises such as balancing on one foot, hopping on one foot, single leg skipping, step ups etc can be fun and highly effective for strengthening the feet and ankles. These are most effective when done in barefoot on grass, mats or gym floor

All parents want to see their children do well in sports. A strength program will help your child perform better in their chosen sport, as well as prevent injury. The earlier you begin with getting a child’s foot balanced and stable, the more likely they will avoid painful injuries later on. I encourage all parents to pay close attention to their child’s feet, if any pain is present, or any imbalances or changes occur in the way your child walks or runs, a trip to a good childrens’ Podiatrist is a good idea. It may prevent your child from spending time on the sidelines.

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

The Foot Health Foundation

twitter @tracyabyrne

Children’s Foot Health: Football Boots, Wellies, Ballet Shoes & more..

SOME SHOES ARE HEALTHIER for our feet than others. As a childrens’ Podiatrist, I know that the healthiest shoes for children are flat, with a soft, malleable sole, no heel and plenty of toe room. The shape of a good shoe will match the natural shape of the foot, hence wider at the toes and with plenty of ‘wiggle’ room. But even my two girls occasionally have to wear other types of shoes! Follow these rules to minimise damage…

School shoes

Across the UK, most schools require kids to wear rigid, hard soled shoes with a raised heel. The shape and rigidity are not ideal for children’s developing feet so in the very least we can make sure they are the right size. There should be between 12-17mm of room front the end of the biggest toe to the end of the shoe and plenty of room for the toes to wiggle around. Try using a Plus12 device for safe fitting, available here.


Great for one purpose – stomping in puddles! Made of synthetic, Wellingtons can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Check out SKEANIE Riding Boots in the Infant Range for a foot-friendly alternative when out walking (just don’t stomp in puddles with them!)

Ballet shoes

These are notoriously bad for feet as stress is placed on the second metatarsal, Achilles and lower leg muscles. Dancers end up with horrific feet problems! If they must be worn, try to get ballet shoes with as wide a toe box as possible. Wear sparingly or opt for even better, get your child into a different dancing style that requires bare feet!

Football boots

The most common mistake with football boots is buying them too small. There seems to be some misconception that tight boots support the foot more. This is not the case; too tight shoes will cause bunions, inflammation, stiffness and black toe (bruising). Get them fitted by a professional – a Podiatrist knows best!

Flip flops

These should be used only for showering on school camps or at the swimming pool! Severe lack of support means kiddies will scrunch their toes and stretch connective tissue that runs from heel to toe, causing inflammation and heel pain. Check out the SKEANIE Sandals for a much healthier alternative – they look smarter too!

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

The Foot Health Foundation

twitter @tracyabyrne

10 Life Lessons You Need to Teach Your Kids

1. Be a Respectful House Guest – catapulting mashed potato at the walls is acceptable for babies. But by the time your child is staying over at friends’ houses they should be saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, complimenting the host, and offering to help out with the dishes. Simple. 

2. Swim – Pool parties, holidays in Ibiza, a fishing trip – A child who can’t swim will feel left out and self conscious when it comes to any water activity, especially in teenage years.

3. Do Basic Cooking – If you want your child to be happy in love one day, they better know how to cook eggs and steak.

4. Use Google Effectively – if they can’t cook eggs and steak they can at least look it up.

5. Give a Compliment – It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, and it’s free.

6. Remove a stain – beats throwing out an item of clothing, or asking you to do their washing when they’re 32 years old.

7. Sew a Button onto Clothing – same reasons as above.

8. Remember Names – one of the vital skills of charisma. Charisma is a sure fire way to win friends, jobs, promotions and general popularity

9. Do Press-Ups and Sit-Ups Properly – Like the other skills on this list, basic fitness skills should be on the school curriculum – but they’re not. When done regularly and correctly, these exercises will strengthen the body and prevent injury.

10. Make a Simple Budget – Being in debt is not fun.  Being in debt because your offspring keep borrowing money off you is no fun either. Simple budgeting skills do not get taught in school and many kids will learnt this skill the hard way.

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

twitter @tracyabyrne


Children’s Foot Health: An Important Message From Tracy

Around 70 per cent of adult foot problems come from wearing the wrong type or size of footwear during childhood. In my years of practising as a Podiatrist, I‘ve seen so many chronic foot-related problems that could have been prevented. Unfortunately, children today are headed for the same problems, as recent studies undertaken across Europe reveal that 70 per cent of children are wearing shoes too small. As a mother of two young daughters and a Podo-Paediatric Specialist (Infant Foot Specialist), I am passionate about improving our childrens’ foot health by sharing my knowledge with the local community.

There are two important issues currently affecting the foot development of our children:
1) The type of shoes children wear – rigid, hard soled shoes don’t allow for the natural development and strengthening of ankle and feet muscles. Despite all the latest scientific research pointing towards the ‘barefoot’ model of shoe being much more beneficial for children, this remains a little known fact among parents
2) Sizing of shoes –  Research shows wearing shoes of insufficient length during childhood leads to deformities of the foot, particularly the development of bunions.

Looking after your kids’ feet from day one will help prevent foot -related problems for the rest of their lives, including back pain, postural and gait issues, and ability to do sports.

My daughter made us very proud on Wednesday when she won the main race at her sports carnival! Annie has spent a lot of her life barefoot, and as a result has developed strong, healthy feet and a keen sense of sportmanship (and competitiveness!)

Annie (right) looking gleeful!


Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for SKEANIE

twitter @tracyabyrne


Is Your Child a Messy Eater? Improving Proprioception

Proprioception is knowing where you are in space. It’s essential for doing just about everything, from playing sports to spooning in a mouthful of food. If we didn’t have any proprioception, we would always be bumping into things. Of course, everyone trips over occasionally, but some people have better proprioception than others. Children with  proprioception problems may break toys or crayons accidentally. They may also be messy eaters or be known as ‘clumsy’. But its all fun and games until someone gets hurt. By regularly practicing a few of the following activities with your baby or toddler, you could help improve their proprioception and prevent an accident or injury.

§             play animal walks such as bear crawl, crab walk, slithering snakes, chicken etc 

§             babies – encourage a variety of positions eg lying on tummy, sitting, rolling, standing, crawling and climbing

§             encourage play with a variety of sizes and textures

§             take your child to different play settings – playground, pool, sandpit etc

§             Resistance activities: encourage your child to carry a backpack “on an adventure” or drag a washing basket filled with toys etc Remember to limit the weight to only an extra 5-10% of the child’s body weight

§             Wheelbarrow walks

§             Body pillow “sandwich” (have child lay between two large body pillows and provide them with moderate squishes)

§             Frog jumps

§             Jumping on a trampoline or on a mattress

§             Squeezing or rolling playdough

§             Bouncing on a hippity hop ball

§             Climbing a rockwall

§             Monkey bars

§             Tug of war

§             Baby massage is recommended too, as it improves proprioception from a very young age

Little ones should not be glued to the TV as the first few years of life are the most important for building proprioception and sensory development. Get down on the floor and play with them! As they reach school age, enrolling them in sports, playing an instrument, dancing etc are all fantastic ways to keep building their body awareness.

and remember… Barefoot is best!

Tracy Byrne
Research Podiatrist for Skeanie
Twitter follow @tracyabyrne

6 Tips to Protect Your Kid’s Ankles

A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries for kids and usually happens whilst playing sport, climbing trees or running in the playground. Whilst the initial incident is painful, the receiver of the sprained ankle may find some unexpected advantages of the ensuing handicap.

Advantages of a sprained ankle:

  • siblings and parents become personal slaves
  • an exciting story to tell their friends
  • sympathy from strangers often resulting in extra sweets, TV time etc
Despite their being some advantages for the young sprainee, there are many a disadvantage for the parents:
  • cancellation of your child’s sport/extra curricular activities means less ‘you’ time
  • doing your child’s share of the household chores while they recline in front of the TV
  • dressing your child all over again, when you’ve just spent years teaching them how to dress themselves
  • medical fees
  • …and most of all, a whingeing child.
So we can all agree that the cons outweigh the pros on this one, at least for the parents. Better to take preventative measures so your child can continue to feed the pets and set the table while you enjoy a glass of wine.
Preventative Must Dos:
  • encourage dynamic stretching before all sports, even running in the park or playing catch in the back yard
  • have old sprains checked by a doctor before the sporting season begins
  • buy new shoes for the start of a new season, whether football, rubgy or basketball
  • appropriate shoes for the sport
  • when playing sport in a park or field, check first for potholes and divots
  • …MOST IMPORTANTLY, strengthen your child’s ankles and improve their balance and proprioception by allowing them to walk around barefoot as much as possible from a young age, and purchasing barefoot style shoes (flexible, flat footed shoes like SKEANIES) for everyday wear.#

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for Skeanie

Twitter follow @tracyabyrne



Shoe Review: Infant Skeanie Summer Sandal

The arrival of these darling little sandals brought lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the reception staff at my Podiatry clinic, as they are just so cute! As a Podiatrist, I’m particularly impressed with the design structure – this shoe clings to the infant’s foot to keep the shoe from slipping off, while the soft, malleable sole allows for 100 per cent flexion of the foot. The sole is particularly thin and flat, so sensory perception from the ground would be almost identical to being barefooted. This is vital to the natural growth of baby’s foot, and development of their proprioception and ankle strength.

These sandals are perfect for summer – breathable, sockless, sweat proof, smell proof, lightweight and easy to stuff into backpacks or strollers, when baby wants to go barefoot!

Tracy Byrne

Research Podiatrist for Skeanie

Twitter follow @tracyabyrne