Wearing Shoes: A child learning to walk receives important sensory information from the soles of their feet. Shoes, particularly those with hard and inflexible soles, can make walking more difficult. Your toddler doesn’t need shoes until they have been walking for a couple of months and then only to protect their feet from sharp objects or if it is cold. It is important to allow your child to go barefoot regularly to help them develop balance, co-ordination and posture. Have your child’s shoes professionally fitted, which should include measuring each foot for length, width and girth. Children’s feet grow quickly and their shoe size may need updating every few months. Shoes that are too tight can hamper your child’s walking and cause problems, such as ingrown toenails, pressure points and perhaps even clawed toes.
Flat Feet: An important part of a normally developed foot is the medial longitudinal arch. For the first two years, the arch of your child’s feet will seem to be absent giving the appearance of flat feet. Flat feet are usually normal in a young child due to the weak muscle tone in the foot, a generous padding of fat that serves of an internal arch support, and loose ankle ligaments that permit the foot to lean inwards. As your child masters walking, the ligaments and muscles will strengthen and the fat pads in the arch area will become smaller because the muscle and ligaments are starting to support the feet more and more. By around five years of age, your child should have normal looking arches.
Feet that Turn Inwards: Many toddlers walk ‘pigeon-toed’ with either one or both feet turned inwards. In most cases, this is simply a sign of developing posture and balance, and should resolve by itself (without the need for medical intervention) somewhere between the ages of three and five years. However, if the in-toeing is severe and seems to be causing your child to frequently stumble and fall, or isn’t improving by the time your child is 18 to 24 months of age, see a podiatrist for assessment. Excessive in-toeing may be caused by a variety of underlying difficulties, such as hip joint problems.
Feet that turn outwards: Very occasionally, toddlers walk with their feet turned outwards. This tends to be more common in children who were born prematurely. In most cases, out-toeing resolves by itself as posture and balance matures, but see your podiatrist if you are concerned.
Growing Pains: Some children wake from their sleep with aching legs that need to be rubbed for relief. These aches are erroneously called ‘Growing Pains’. Bones grow very quickly, especially during a growth spurt. If the muscles of the legs that control the motion of the feet are required to work harder because of some structural anomaly of the lower limbs, those leg muscles will become quickly fatigued. Even simple devices to support the feet can provide much treasured relief. Not every adult endured ‘Growing Pains’ during their childhood.
Commons Concerns for Parents:
- Abnormally shaped toes
- Bunions or other deformities
- Stiffness in the foot
- Heel pain
- The child complains of pain while walking
- Severe in-toeing or out-toeing
- Flat feet beyond the age of five years
- A sudden change in the way your child walks
- If your child isn’t walking at all by two years of age.
These are all problems that need professional attention: