Baby Steps: 5 Ways To Ensure Healthy Childhood Foot Development
Posted by Jenn F. on Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
The human foot is one of the most complex parts of the body, with 26 bones, 33 joints, along with an intricate web of more than 100 ligaments, muscles and tendons, supported by a matrix of blood vessels and nerves. Baby feet grow quickly during the first year — to nearly half their adult size!
The pliable nature of a child’s feet is good news for vigilant parents who want to prevent foot pain and problems for their youngsters later in life. Yet, there is also some chance that a perceived problem (like flat feet) may be resolved by the time the child reaches school age. The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine has five tips for parents to ensure healthy childhood foot development.
Tip #1: Encourage Healthy Baby Steps By Removing Obstacles
In your baby’s earliest months, you’ll want to keep your baby’s feet as unrestricted as possible. Shoes and booties are not necessary for infants, as they can restrict movement of the feet and toes. Allowing the baby to lie uncovered enables stretching and kicking, which prepares the feet for bearing weight. You’ll want to change your baby’s position a few times a day and avoid having the baby standing in an activity center for no more than 15 minutes at a time, says the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Tip #2: Don’t Rush Walking
Avoid trying to hold your child up and force steps. Your infant may begin walking anywhere from 10 to 18 months. It’s best that this process evolves naturally. During this time, don’t worry about putting the toddler into shoes indoors. The grasping action of toes and muscle strengthening are best left to bare feet. When walking outside, your toddler may wear lightweight, flexible footwear made of natural materials.
Tip #3: Look For Early Warning Signs
Babies born with common foot deformities, such as clubfoot, benefit from early intervention. If you notice one or both feet are turned inward, rather than straight ahead, your child will require casting to correct the issue before walking age.
Other early walking warning signs include:
– In-toeing: Do both feet point toward the other as a result of rotation in the foot, leg or hip? Does your child often sit in a W-shaped position? Does your child trip a lot? Are the heels of your toddler’s shoes wearing out quickest? Are they wearing unevenly from foot to foot? This could indicate a condition worthy of a podiatrist’s expertise. Sometimes a change in seated position can help, while casting or bracing may be needed for more serious cases.
– Toe-walking: Does your child walk up on the toes most of the time? It’s not uncommon for wee ones to do some of this type of walking, but it should not be persistent. Doctors aren’t sure why kids start walking this way, but it can be gently discouraged by purchasing flat shoes, high-backed shoes, or fun “light-up heel” shoes.
– Flat foot: A hereditary issue like flat foot may not be detected until a child is six years old, but there is no harm in asking a pediatric podiatrist about it ahead of time. Giving a child arch supports or a special type of shoe can ensure this common condition doesn’t lead to pain, bunion or hammertoe development, and gait problems later in life.
– Metatarsus Adductus: Does your child’s foot bend inward at the instep in a letter “C” shape? Does your youngster trip a lot? Serial casting or surgery may be needed to treat this condition.
Tip #4: Buy The Right Shoes.
Going barefoot is not recommended for children who are walking outdoors. Exposure to dirty pavement makes children susceptible to sprains, fractures, infections, wart viruses, and cuts. You may find that you need to buy your child new socks and shoes every few months as the feet are growing. When buying footwear for children:
– Measure the child’s foot before buying shoes.
– Avoid hand-me-down footwear.
– Watch for signs that the shoe is too tight or too loose.
– Look for durable soles and good shock absorption, especially after age 3.
Tip #5: Be Proactive & Listen To Your Child
Don’t shrug off complaints of foot pain. If your child is too small to complain but is constantly trying to wrench shoes off, perhaps they are too small or painful in some way. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 often have pain caused by an “accessory navicular bone” — an extra bone in the arch of the foot. Treatment involves surgical removal to allow the foot’s major tendon to function properly. Fortunately, this intervention combined with orthotic shoe inserts is enough to correct the problem and prevent a lifetime of chronic foot pain. As your child gets older, complaints of pain in the knees, hips, and back can also signal problems with the feet or footwear choice.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.