How cute are baby and toddler feet? They are small and chubby and soft… Lots of things to love.
We often get lots of questions about babies’ feet, and one common question from parents are whether they should be worried about their child’s flat feet. This post hopes to give some guidance around what to expect of your child’s feet, and when you might consider seeking a review from a paediatric physio or podiatrist.
Babies often have (what look like) ‘flat feet’
Babies are born with a pad of fat in their arch area. This is partly what makes the soles of their feet soft, but it also makes their feet look flat. In addition, the muscles that support the arches of the feet don’t start to strengthen and develop until your baby starts to stand on their own, take steps and walk. So it is absolutely normal for babies and young toddlers up to 2 or 3 years of age to have flattened arches.
How do babies develop arches in their feet?
By standing and walking! Your baby will naturally start to develop arches in their feet once they are up on their feet and toddling around. The small muscles in their feet will gradually strengthen over time which will help to support their arches. Some activities you could do to help strengthen these muscles that support their arch include:
- Walking on softer surfaces such as sand, soft mattresses, or soft grass
- Rising up onto their toes
- Scrunching the toes eg: at the beach, in shaving foam, or scrunching the toes to pick up small objects off the floor
- Lots of time barefoot! Walking barefoot allows your child to feel the ground and therefore activate their foot muscles more.
It is normal for children to have some degree of flattening in their arches up until the age of 5, so you also might just need to give your child some time for their foot muscles to develop adequately to support their arches.
So when should I worry about flat feet?
As a physio with extensive experience in paediatrics, my usual advice is: If your toddler has flat feet and they cause no other issues for your child, then there is no reason to worry about their flattened arches.
If however your toddler has flat feet and they are also having difficulties with their gross motor skills such as walking, running, skipping, hopping or balancing, or they are experiencing pain in their feet/ankles/knees/legs, then it might be worth having their feet reviewed and potentially using strategies to support their arches.
If your child has tight calf muscles as well as flat feet, it would also be useful to have their feet reviewed because the tight muscles might be causing their feet to become flattened.
How can we support flattened arches in children?
There are several ways you could try to support your child’s arches:
- Purchasing shoes that provide reasonable control around your child’s heel, and provide some arch support along the inside of the foot
- Using ‘off the shelf’ orthotics that are available to purchase and slip inside your child’s shoes
- Seeing a podiatrist for custom made orthotics that are specifically designed for your child’s feet
Unless your child has specific issues with their feet, we usually don’t recommend introducing orthotics until your child starts school because that is typically when they start wearing closed in shoes most days of the week.
If you are concerned about your child’s feet, it doesn’t hurt to seek an assessment from a children’s physiotherapist or podiatrist – at best they can tell you your child’s flat feet are fine, or at worst they can help you to support your child’s arches through exercises or orthotic supports.
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