How You Can Provide Lifelong Foot Health for Your Child
Foot health is a crucial part of overall well-being, regardless of your age. More often than not, foot pain is the culprit behind an unwanted reduction in activity and lifestyle.
This is obviously true for older adults, but perhaps most critical for children. Foot problems that emerge in childhood can have lifelong ramifications if not caught and addressed in a timely fashion. And of course, children aren’t always able to tell (or tell you) when something is wrong.
As a parent, it’s up to you to examine your child’s feet, ankles, and gait carefully as they grow. Helping them establish good habits and intercepting painful conditions as early as possible will help create the best possible future for your little one.
Here are a few things to watch for, and tips to consider:
Which Way Do Their Toes Point?
You may notice that when your child begins walking, their toes might not point straight ahead. Fairly often, their toes may point slightly inward (in-toeing), they might even point outward (out-toeing). This could be due to rotation in one of three areas:
- The front portion of the foot itself might be curved (metatarsus adductus).
- The shinbone, or tibia, might be rotated. This means the entire lower leg and foot will be out of alignment.
- The thigh bone, or femur, might be rotated. This means the entire leg, including the knees, will be pointed in or out.
In-toeing and out-toeing usually—but not always—resolve on their own in time. Still, it’s wise to be cautious and take your child in for an initial check-up if their feet appear pointed away from center. Take them in again if there are any signs that in-toeing or out-toeing are causing pain or limiting their ability to run and play.
Sizing Up Shoes
Kids don’t need shoes until they’re ready to start walking outdoors. Before then, let them go barefoot. If you need to cover their feet for warmth at night or outside, dress them only in loose-fitting socks. There are two very important reasons for this:
- The tactile sensation of bare feet on the ground help your toddler develop a sense of balance and coordination, and allow muscles to develop properly.
- Restrictive shoes and even socks can delay developmental milestones, or even alter the natural shape of your child’s feet.
Children’s feet grow extremely fast—even as they approach age 10 and beyond. It is very important you check the fit of their footwear regularly to ensure they aren’t getting too snug. You might have to get used to the idea of buying new shoes 4 times per year, or sometimes more often in the youngest children.
We strongly discourage the use of hand-me-down or even gently used shoes. Not only can they transmit unwanted infections like athlete’s foot, but they can also cause pain. Shoes tend to “mold” themselves to fit the feet of the original owner. Place a different foot inside, and there may be unexpected pressure points.
Caring for Skin and Nails
Kids are magnets for skin infections and nail problems. A combination of fast-growing feet, exposure to fungi and bacteria, and underdeveloped immune systems can result in problems such as:
- Athlete’s foot. Itchy, scaly rashes that are usually located on the tops of feet and/or between toes. Most cases can be treated using an over-the-counter antifungal spray or cream. If you find that these topical medications aren’t working, however, we can prescribe something stronger.
- Plantar warts. Warts on feet can be embarrassing and distressing for your child. They can also be painful if severe or located in a sensitive spot, and they can easily spread elsewhere on the feet and hands if not properly controlled. Home care options are largely ineffective and can even be dangerous, so we recommend you avoid them. Our office provides several options for treatment.
- Ingrown toenails. Kids may suffer an ingrown toenail after stubbing a toe or wearing shoes that are too tight. However, it’s even more likely that your child has a genetic predisposition for ingrown toenails and will continue to suffer from them if you don’t get it fixed. We provide a simple, in-office procedure to trim the ingrown nail and stop it from growing back. Relief is immediate and permanent.
As children grow, it’s important to teach them proper foot hygiene. This includes proper toenail trimming (straight across and not too short), washing and drying their feet every day, and switching shoes and socks when they get damp or sweaty.
Help for Heel Pain
Some kids may start to develop distressing heel pain by their late single digits through the early-to-middle teenage years. Typically this is caused by Sever’s disease, a condition that is unique to children and very common among kids who play sports.
During childhood and adolescence, the ends of growing bones—including the heel bone—are capped by growth plates, which are softer than the surrounding bone. Because of this, they’re more susceptible to being irritated by physical overuse, or even by tight tendons and ligaments that don’t keep up with growth.
If your active child is complaining about heel pain or stiffness, or shows any of the telltale signs—limping, discomfort, avoiding active play—you can conclude a likely case of Sever’s disease and take them in for a visit. The vast majority of cases can be treated non-invasively, often through rest, physical therapy, orthotics specially designed for children, or if absolutely necessary, through casting. The sooner your child is treated, the sooner they can return to activity, and the less likely they are to develop a more serious injury.
Don’t Forget About the Feet!
Happy, healthy feet really are key to an active and healthy life! If your child complains of pain, or you notice any signs of difficulty walking, playing, or just being a kid that could be attributed to foot pain, please make sure your child gets the help he or she needs. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Birnbaum in Spring Valley, please call our office today at (845) 352-7507.