Leslie Proctor PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with Tidewater Physical Therapy, Inc where she has a special interest in working with children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy and autism.
Have you noticed that your child walks on his or her toes rather than with a heel-toe pattern? Many children do, but what many may not know is that it can cause complications later in life. Toe walking can lead to changes in foot structure, ankle instability, knee pain, hip pain, and even low back pain.
Fortunately, there are some strategies that can help. The solution involves identifying the root of the problem. For instance, some children toe walk due to tight calf muscles. This can occur in children who were born prematurely, those who are weak, or in those who have developmental delay.
In this case, stretching the calves and hamstrings and strengthening the core will help. Balance exercises are imperative, and can include walking on a curb, standing on unstable surfaces, and even playing video games such as the Wii.
Other children toe walk because of sensory processing disorders. In this case, it is important to know whether the child is seeking sensory input or avoiding it. Decreasing toe walking for these children can include exposing their feet to different surfaces, such as sand, rice, or even a wash cloth if they tend to avoid having their feet touched.
For these children, physical therapy can be incredibly beneficial to work on improving sensory feedback using joint compressions, taping, and other techniques performed by a trained professional.
The last major cause of toe walking stems from neurological disorders. In this case, it is important to retrain the muscles to work properly. These children may need help shifting their weight backwards – this could include a wedge placed on the heel of the shoe, standing on a decline, and even wearing flippers. Physical therapy can also benefit these children, who may require special braces or a specific exercise protocol to help them retrain their muscles.
If you notice that your child predominately walks on his or her toes, don’t assume they will outgrow it – it can and should be corrected to prevent further complications. Talk to your pediatrician about physical therapy – it can help!