As a parent there are so many new things to consider, however, one thing that is often overlooked is children’s feet development. Walking and running are some fundamental skills children need to develop. So, what are the key milestones and assistance we can give to help our child's feet develop?
Development of Children's Feet
Children's feet are very different from those of adults as they are not yet fully formed. At 6 months of age the foot is still mostly cartilage. In fact, the last bone doesn't begin forming until children are about 3 years old. By the time we turn 18 the bones will have fully matured.
Babies feet only need protection in the cooler weather. Playsuits with feet, socks or even natural fibre shoes can be used to keep little feet warm. They should always be loose around your baby’s feet. Allowing time for your baby to kick freely will help ensure muscle development in their feet and legs.
Many children begin to walk any time between 10 and 20 months of age. It is important to remember that each child is unique and will move through the development stages at their own pace. Children also roll, crawl and run in their own time. There is no evidence to support that the use of “Jolly Jumpers” or baby walkers will encourage your baby to walk before they are ready, however these types of equipment may place additional pressure on feet that are not yet ready for taking weight.
When your child first begins to walk, shoes should only be used when protection is needed from the ground. Allowing children to go barefoot or only wearing very soft shoes helps the foot to develop and assists in strengthening muscles.
Sometimes children walk with their feet pointed inwards (in-toeing) or outwards (out-toeing). In most cases, these variations in walking are a normal part of growth and development. Most children will grow out of these walking styles by the age of 2. However, it can take until the age of 12. If this walking type is only on one foot or leg, or your child is tripping more than normal or if your child is of school age and not keeping up with their friends in regard to activity, a podiatrist may be able to assist. Children under the age of 3 may sometimes walk on their tip toes and this is a typical development stage, however any child over the age of 3 still walking on tip toe (toe walking) should be assessed by a podiatrist.
A Child's foot grows in length and changes in shape over time. Arch development is an individual thing and arch height, or lack of an arch does not always indicate that a child will have problems with their feet. If your child has pain or has a flat foot that looks different to the other foot, then a podiatrist can assist.
Due to rapid growth in length and width while young, frequent changes in the size of shoes and socks may be necessary. Do a size check at least every 1 to 3 months up to the age of three and every 4 months up to the age of five and then every 6 months until your child stops growing.
Heel pain may also occur in growing children, usually between the ages of 8 and 14, and may worsen during or straight after sporting activities. If your child is experiencing pain at the back of the heel that has limited their activity or causes them to limp, a podiatrist can help. Your podiatrist will be able to determine whether the heel pain is related to the development process or something more serious and give advice about ways to alleviate the symptoms.
Skin and Nails
Problems with skin and nails on your child's feet may occur from time to time. Some conditions (e.g. ingrown toenails, athlete's foot and warts) require treatment from a podiatrist, while others may be helped by a change in hygiene or shoes. Children also tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults. A plantar wart is often on the sole of the foot that appears to be hard and flat, with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries. If the wart is causing discomfort, a podiatrist can assist with treatment.
Shoes should above all, protect your children's feet.
- Always have both feet measured for length.
- Toes should not touch the end of the shoe, otherwise damage can occur to the nail and toe, you need a gap of about 1 cm from the end of the largest toe to the shoe.
- Shoes should be broad enough and deep enough - if you can see the outline of the foot pressing against the shoe it is the wrong fit.
- Don't buy shoes that need breaking in. Shoes should be comfortable immediately.
- Shop for shoes later in the day - most feet tend to sell during the day and it is best to fit shoes when the feet at their largest.
A check up with a podiatrist is recommended if:
- you notice uneven shoe wear.
- you notice skin rashes, hard skin lumps or bumps on your child's feet.
- your child complains of recurrent pain in the feet or legs which also increases with activity.
- your child walks on their tiptoes.
- your child's walk does not look symmetrical.
- you have any other concerns about your child's feet.
References: Australian Podiatry Association