As a parent, it’s only natural to be concerned when your child is in pain or has a walking pattern that’s unusual for them. Sometimes foot issues in kids go away as they grow, but other times, they don’t. When it doesn’t go away, it leads you to wonder which child foot problems a podiatrist should see.
This guide reviews common foot problems affecting children, their symptoms and causes and at-home treatments you can try. We will also discuss the instances in which you should see a doctor for your child’s foot problem.
Common Foot Issues for Children
Every child is unique and grows at their own pace. While some common childhood foot problems may disappear as your child ages and develops, others require treatment. Here are four common foot issues affecting children along with treatment possibilities.
Ingrown toenails occur when a nail’s sharp edge grows into the skin. They often occur when a nail is trimmed incorrectly or your child’s shoes are too tight. This condition can be painful and cause redness and swelling. If the toenail becomes infected, a yellow or clear discharge can develop.
Any nails can become ingrown, but big toenails are usually the most common ones. Children and people of all ages can develop ingrown toenails. To treat an ingrown toenail at home, you can:
- Have your child soak their foot in warm, soapy water for 10-20 minutes three times a day. Soaking will help soften the nail, making it easier to trim.
- Wedge a small piece of wet cotton under the nail. The cotton will lift and cushion the nail, preventing it from cutting into the skin as it grows out and can be trimmed.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the area and bandage it.
- Have your child wear open-toed shoes or sandals until their toe has healed.
- Give your child over-the-counter pain medication, like Tylenol, as needed.
You can safely treat most mild cases of ingrown toenails at home. However, if your child has any of the following symptoms, their toenail is likely infected and a doctor should see them:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth or redness
- Red streaks leading from the toe
- Pain that lasts longer than a week
Flat feet don’t have an arch, so the middle of the foot touches the ground. Most babies and toddlers have flat feet, but the arch should naturally develop as they grow. Other causes of flat feet include:
- Muscle problems
- Tight Achilles tendons
- An issue related to the formation of the bones in the feet
- Genetic disorders
The two types of flat feet are rigid and flexible. Flexible flat feet have an arch when sitting or tip-toeing, but rigid flat feet never have an arch. In most cases, flat feet don’t cause problems or require treatment. Your child should wear supportive, well-fitting shoes but typically won’t need inserts.
Stretching at home can help your child’s flat feet. To help develop the arch and promote balance, have them stand on one foot for about a minute — or as long as they can — at a time. If that’s too challenging, they can stand with one foot placed directly in front of the other. A doctor can also recommend stretches to help your child’s flat feet.
You should also see a doctor if:
- Your child develops knee, ankle or foot pain.
- Your child is over five and hasn’t outgrown their flat feet.
- Your child trips or falls easily.
- Your child had a normal arch but suddenly developed flat feet.
Sever Disease is a common cause of heel pain in children. It is the swelling and irritation of the growth plate — a layer of cartilage near the end of the bone in the heel — and generally affects children ages 8-14. Excessive stress on the growth plate from an active lifestyle and sports typically causes this disease.
The signs and symptoms of Sever Disease include:
- Swelling and redness in the heel
- Stiffness in the feet when first waking up
- Pain when barefoot, especially in the morning
- Soreness in the heel when it’s squeezed
- Increased heel pain when playing sports
- Limping or toe walking
If your child has Sever Disease, they should refrain from or cut down the activities that cause pain. Walking and non-weight-bearing exercises, such as swimming, are generally safe. At-home treatment for Sever Disease can involve:
- Placing an ice pack on the heel for 15 minutes every couple of hours
- Pain medication, such as Tylenol or Advil
- Using heel gel cups or supportive shoe inserts
- Wearing open-backed shoes
- Wearing a compression sock or elastic wrap
In most cases, Sever Disease will heal after a few weeks of rest. However, it’s vital to see a doctor if your child has the following:
- Severe pain that does not improve or go away with rest
- A fever
- A specific injury to the area
- Severe heel swelling or redness
When children first learn to walk, they often walk on their tip-toes. Children usually outgrow it, even if they continue to do it during their toddler years. Toe walking can be caused by certain conditions, such as:
- Autism: Toe walking can be associated with autism.
- Cerebral palsy: A disorder of movement, posture or muscle tone caused by injury or abnormal development in the parts of the brain that control muscle function can cause toe walking. Cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that affect body movement, balance and muscle coordination.
- Muscular dystrophy: Muscle fibers can weaken and become damaged over time, which can cause toe walking. When muscular dystrophy causes toe walking, the child walks normally, then starts toe walking.
- Short Achilles tendon: The Achilles tendon connects the lower leg muscles to the back of the heel. If this tendon is too short, it can prevent the heel from touching the ground and lead to toe walking.
- Idiopathic toe walking: Sometimes, toe walking runs in families, and when it does, it’s called idiopathic toe walking.
If your child is toe walking, here are some exercises you can try:
- Squatting: The easiest way to encourage your child to squat is to have them pick up their toys.
- Sit-to-stand: If your child is too young to squat or less independently mobile, you can sit them on your lap and help them stand.
- Stair climbing: Repeated stair climbing will stretch your child’s legs and improve their endurance. Encourage them to alternate their leading leg as they ascend and descend the stairs.
- Single leg balancing: Encourage your child to keep their feet flat while they balance on one leg.
- Seated scooter boards: Seated scooter boards allow a child to dig their heels into the ground. This helps them learn about heel strike, or walking where your heel strikes the floor first.
- Standing scooters: Standing scooters help children learn balance, stretch their legs and improve their leg strength and endurance.
Generally, toe walking at a young age isn’t a cause for concern. However, if your child is still toe walking after age two, you should consult with a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions. Toe walking puts a child more at risk for falling.
Contact Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates For Your Child’s Foot Concerns
You should always see a doctor if you are concerned about any foot issues your child has. Mild cases can generally be treated at home, but if the treatments don’t work or the problem is more severe, they should be seen by a specialist and receive a diagnosis.
We value your concerns at Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates and would love to hear from you. Our podiatry experts stay up to date on new medical technologies and implement these innovations into our practice. They can help diagnose your child’s foot problem and provide treatment. We have offices throughout Washington state in Tumwater, Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia and Lacey. Call us at 360-754-3338 to schedule an appointment at any of them or fill out our contact form.