Kids aren’t “little adults.”
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of raising one (or several!), you of course know this already. Their brains, their bodies, their emotions and logic, decision making—they’re all still developing and maturing from one state into another.
You simply can’t treat a child the same way you treat an adult and expect the same result.
Well, that’s 100% true when it comes to caring for a child’s feet, too.
A Different Kind of Foot Care
Pediatric foot care is often very different from the work we do with adults—and not because kids lack the “maturity” of their elders. (Actually, some kids are a lot braver than some of their parents and grandparents usually are!)
It’s actually more that kids’ feet are just plain different from that of adults. Their bones may not have hardened yet. Their arches may still be developing. In some cases, the position and rotation of their bones are still slowly “unwinding” from their fetal configuration!
As a result, kids experience very different kinds of foot and ankle issues and conditions than adults do, and treating them properly requires a different set of techniques.
On the plus side, many (though certainly not all) childhood foot problems can be self-correcting. Kids are resilient, and they bounce back from injuries very quickly.
But having said that, it’s also imperative that we do identify more serious childhood foot problems quickly and treat them correctly, because it’s going to set them on a trajectory that can affect them for the rest of their lives.
A critical foot or ankle flaw the develops in childhood and isn’t treated promptly could mean anything from a higher risk of injury, faster foot fatigue, earlier onset of arthritis or bunions—all sorts of lifelong problems that could drastically limit their health and quality of life.
Congenital Foot Deformities and Gait Abnormalities
That’s a mouthful, but don’t get hung up on the big words. What we’re really talking about here is, in simple terms, “foot problems your child is born with that affect the shape of their feet, or the way that they move.”
That’s a very, very broad category, but here are some quick examples:
- Being born with extra toes (polydactyly), webbed toes (syndactyly), or both (polysyndactyly).
- Being born with flat arches. Actually, most kids don’t develop a permanent arch until age 5 or so, since the bones are still flexible and the supporting tendons aren’t strong enough. But some cases are much more serious, especially when the flat foot is rigid or caused by abnormal fusion of bones in the hindfoot or midfoot.
- Being born with excessively high arches.
- Toes that point inward (intoeing) or outward (out-toeing) when your child stands up or walks. This could be due to slightly rotated foot bones (metatarsus adductus), shin bones (tibial torsion), or even thigh bones (femoral anteversion or retroversion).
- Gait abnormalities that affect how your child walks and moves—for example, constant limping, high stepping, or walking on tiptoes all the time.
- Feet that are excessively curved in or twisted at birth (clubfoot).
Now, these conditions can vary a lot in terms of how serious they are, or whether or not they need treatment.
Clubfoot, for example, requires extensive treatment that should begin as soon as possible—often just a few weeks after birth.
On the other hand, most cases of intoeing or out-toeing are self-correcting, and really only require observation unless they persist beyond a certain age. And flatfoot treatment can vary significantly based on what’s causing the flat feet and how old your child is.
But in most cases, it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Any time you notice your child’s feet don’t quite look right, or there’s something funny in the way they’re walking, bring them in to see us. We can determine if further treatment is necessary, and if so, what your options are.
In addition to underdeveloped bones and tissue, children also have underdeveloped immune systems. That’s why they’re constantly getting sick (and far too often, getting you sick in the process.)
It’s also why children are at much higher risk of several common foot infections. These conditions aren’t unique to children, but children generally get them at higher rates.
Athlete’s foot is a notable example. This is a fungal skin infection that tends to cover the tops of the feet and the spaces between the toes with itchy, scaly red rashes, and can be very uncomfortable for your child. Plantar warts are another problem in this category, caused by a viral infection.
In either case, kids who wear sweaty and stinky socks and shoes or run around barefoot on playgrounds, pool decks, or locker rooms may be more likely to expose themselves to these kinds of germs, and of course their underdeveloped immune systems are less equipped to fight them off.
Athlete’s foot can usually be cured at home using topical antifungal medication. Warts, on the other hand, are best left to the professionals.
Kids have impressive energy and stamina, especially once they reach a certain age. Before long they’re running, jumping, dancing, playing with other kids, joining sports teams … and hopefully not tearing out your walls in the meantime.
Unfortunately, that also means that active kids and teenagers also wind up with their fair share of foot and ankle injuries.
There’s another wrinkle here that adults don’t have to think about quite as much: growing feet. While adults are often just as guilty of wearing shoes that don’t fit properly, kids have the added problem of straight up outgrowing their footwear, sometimes in as little as 3-6 months.
Well-meaning parents are sometimes tempted to buy shoes intentionally too big in order to save a little money, but that can be just as dangerous for growing feet.
Ill-fitting footwear is one of the main contributing causes of ingrown toenails, an affliction that kids are often troubled by. And bad shoes combined with rambunctious activity can lead to all sorts of sports injuries, including bumps, bruises, and sprained ankles.
Kids are also uniquely susceptible to a form of heel pain called Sever’s disease. This isn’t actually a disease per se, but an overuse injury caused by repetitive trauma or strain on the growth plate of the heel bone.
Growth plates, as you might expect, are responsible for growing new bone tissue, and they’re softer and more fragile than ossified bone. During childhood and adolescence, the growth plate of the heel bone is relatively exposed and susceptible to both athletic overuse and “tugging” from overly tight muscles and tendons.
Spotting the Signs of Pain
The other big challenge with kids and foot injuries or conditions is that you can’t always rely on them to tell you when something hurts. They might not want to stop playing, or be afraid of going to the doctor, so they keep their mouths shut.
And in the meantime, that foot injury that might have been “minor” can get worse and worse if not addressed promptly.
We say this not to frighten you, but to remind you to be observant. Watch your kids as they play. See how they move and what they do.
Are they limping or asking to be carried all the time?
Are they shying away from activities they used to love?
Are they pulling their shoes right off their feet as early and as often as possible?
If so, it could be a clear sign that something might be wrong—anything from a shoe that’s gotten to small, to a sports injury or heel pain that needs a closer look from a pediatric foot and ankle specialist.
And speaking of pediatric foot and ankle specialists …
At Carmel Foot Specialists, our mission is to provide comprehensive, caring, and advanced foot care to all the members of your family—from the youngest children to the youngest (at heart!) senior citizens. If you’re concerned about your child’s feet, we’d love to offer our assistance!
Please give us a call at the office most convenient for you:
- Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
- South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253