Children’s feet and ankles are very different from those of adults. Because they are still growing, and their bones are still soft and flexible, many children’s foot problems should be addressed as early as possible to help prevent lifelong problems. If your child is experiencing any pain, showing any abnormalities in their foot shape or the way the walk, or having difficulty with development, they should be examined by a foot care specialist familiar with pediatric conditions and treatment.
At Northwest Extremity Specialists, we love kids and pride ourselves on offering compassionate, effective, and comprehensive care to patients of all ages. Whether your child needs just a watchful eye, custom orthotics or arch supports, physical therapy, or surgery, we are always here to provide the appropriate level of support and treatment for your family.
If you notice anything unusual about your child’s feet or ankles, have any concerns about the way they walk or stand, or if they are experiencing any pain or discomfort in their feet, legs or ankles, we encourage you to bring them in for a visit.
Common Pediatric Foot Problems
Some children’s foot conditions are inherited or otherwise present at birth. You may notice them right away, in a few days, or once your child begins to walk. Common conditions include:
- Flat feet. “Normal” arches don’t form in most children until they are a few years old, so if your child’s foot flattens when they first start walking, it is most likely normal. However, severely flat arches, feet that are flat even with not standing, painful feet, or flat feet beyond age 6 may indicate a more serious problem.
- Clubfoot. The child is born with one or both feet severely twisted, often so that the side or even top of the foot points downward. This condition should not cause any pain for a newborn, but must be treated with casting and stretching as soon as possible to straighten the feet before walking begins.
- In-toeing / out-toeing. Rather than pointing straight ahead, feet are turned inward or outward due to rotation in the feet bones, shins, or hips. This is usually thought to be a result of position in the uterus or an imbalance in muscle strength in the legs and the feet, and if the rotation isn’t severe it should slowly “unwind” naturally over the first few years of life. We usually recommend evaluation to determine “structural” versus “functional” problems and to help protect feet during development.
- Webbed toes. A child may be born with toes connected to one another by excess skin, if this webbing did not fully dissolve properly during the fetal stage. Rarely, the connection may be more severe, with bones being fused or shared.
- Extra toes. Most often, an extra digit is only partially formed and non-functional, although in rare cases a fully functional extra digit may be present. These can be removed surgically, usually once the child is at least a few months old.
Common Infections, Traumas, and Injuries in Kids
Kids are great fun, but they can get into lots of trouble! Common foot injuries and problems experienced by kids include:
- Ingrown toenails. Pain, redness, drainage, or swelling along the side of the nail, usually on the great toe, can indicate an ingrown toenail. These may form if a child stubs a toe, wears shoes that are too tight, or simply have unusually curved nails. Ingrown toenails rarely go away on their own and can lead to more serious infections if not treated properly.
- Athlete’s foot. Peeling, itching, or cracking of the skin on the bottoms of the feet or in-between toes is usually called by a fungal skin infection called athlete’s foot. Sweaty, stinky shoes and playing barefoot in damp areas can cause this fungal skin infection to spread.
- Plantar warts. Plantar warts are caused by a viral infection in the skin. Warts on feet may be painful for a child, and may spread to affect larger areas if not treated. They can also be embarrassing.
- Heel pain. Although kids can suffer from the same heel pain conditions as adults, adolescent heel pain is usually caused by an injury to the epiphyseal (growth) plate at the bottom of the heel, which is responsible for forming new bone tissue during a child’s growth.
- Sports injuries. Active kids, and especially athletes, are particularly vulnerable to many common sports injuries, particularly ankle sprains. Because of their growing bones, injures can be more severe, especially if they involve the growth plates.
Everyday Care for Healthy Feet
Cleaning, protecting, and caring for their child’s feet should be a priority for every new parent. Are you helping them develop a healthy and strong foundation?
- Keep their feet clean and toenails trimmed.
- Let them go barefoot until they’re walking. Even then, they should only need shoes when walking outside. This helps them hone their balance and develop without restriction.
- A baby’s feet should only ever be lightly, loosely covered by socks or sheets. They should have full freedom to flex and wiggle toes and feet—this helps them build strength and coordination.
- Check regularly to make sure their shoes fit. Tight shoes are a frequent source of pain, and young children can outgrow their old pair several times per year.
- Do not give your child hand-me-down shoes. They can cause blisters and pain, or transfer fungal infections.
- Keep a close watch on your child’s activities. Are they limping? Withdrawing quickly from play? Pulling off their shoes at every opportunity? Asking to be carried frequently? They may not always tell you when their feet hurt, so you may need to rely on your own observation and perception to know when something might be wrong.