Feb 7, 2011

Protecting Young Children’s Feet Avoids Many Foot and Walking Problems Later

Your Newly Walking Toddler Is The Perfect Age to See a Podiatrist

Over the years, I have been impressed that so many parents recognize the importance of bringing their young children in to have their feet checked by a podiatrist. Moms and dads seem to know that adult problems with knees, ankles and feet often start at a very young age, and that they seem to want to help their kids avoid this. Bravo to them!

So, at what age should a child visit a podiatrist? At Snyder/Stuart Podiatry Centers, we see babies just as they are starting to walk, therefore we can spot any irregularities that might need attention.

Why is visiting a podiatrist vital at such a young age? First, remember that the foot is a surprisingly intricate part of the human body. With many working parts, the foot has more potential for problems. On top of that, the feet of toddlers are complex, pliable and very soft. Any incorrect pressure on the foot – whether from shoes or walking — can cause a deformity that lasts a lifetime.

Did you know that within the first year of your child’s life, the foot reaches half its adult size? Those initial 12 months of his or her life is extremely important to the feet. A podiatrist watches for irregularities in the child’s development, as well as some of the more serious problems like Sever’s disease that affects the heel, Osgood-Schlatter’s disease that causes problems at the knee – both often dismissed by parents as “growing pains.”

More common among children are flat feet. If both parents have this condition, there’s a likelihood their child will have flat feet. However, small children actually have a little pad of fat in the arch area. It disappears over time, but can make a child’s foot appear flat. A podiatrist can determine if your little one has flat feet, and make recommendations to help with this condition.

Likewise, many young children start walking with their toes pointing in directions other than straight ahead, which is where they should point. If a child’s toes that point inward as he or she walks, this is known as “in-toeing.” The hallmark of an in-toe walker is that the youngster trips more often than normal. The opposite, “out-toeing,” is even more common. Most children outgrow these conditions, but if it continues past age 2, other treatments may be needed.

Another “popular” condition among toddlers who are just learning to walk is “toe walking,” or equines gait. Again, most children outgrow this quickly. However, toe walking can be caused by neuromuscular conditions like muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, differences in leg length, Achilles tendon shortness or spinal cord abnormalities. If this continues, the child should be evaluated.

The good news here is that most foot problems in children are either preventable or correctable with appropriately fitted footwear. There is a world of specialized orthotics and insoles that can help most foot problems. A podiatrist can help with this. And since most adult foot problems start as babies, early detection is important.

Here is a short list of things a parent should look for in their children:
1. Frequent tripping, bumping into things or falling. This is a sure sign of an imbalance of some sort, and is nearly always treatable.

2. Unexplained bumps or lumps on feet. Young children do not get bunions, calluses and hammerhead toes. Have any unexplained bumps examined.

3. Feet and/or leg pain. Yes, it is normal for all children to have the occasional“growing pains,” especially at night. But if it lasts more than a few days, it’s worth having a medical professional take a look.

4. Uneven shoe wear. Examine the soles of your child’s shoes regularly. Look inside and out for any signs of uneven wear. This signals that better orthotics are needed.

5. Check out toenails. It’s unusual, but children can develop in-grown toenails and skin disorders on the foot. Take a careful look at your child’s feet after a bath to make sure everything is in order.

Finally, if you have more questions about children’s feet, please call one of the SSPC offices or email us. Also, our friends at ePodiatry.com recommend the book, “Is Your Child Walking Right?: A Parent’s Guide to Little Feet” by Andrew K.C. Chong and available at amazon.com.

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