The development of childrens feet
We have all seen the wrinkled feet of a new-born baby, that are so soft and flawless, with toenails that seem to be painted on those tiny feet: they are the symbol of a new life that is beginning its journey through the world, on a path that your child still has yet to explore.
Parents often worry about the shape of their children’s feet, but the most important thing they should know is that a new-born baby's feet are flat: in the first 4/ 5 years of life, the joint, bone and neurological systems will gradually develop, allowing feet to complete the development of foot arches and perform their functions.
How can we help growing feet to develop correctly?
In the early months of baby’s life
In the first few months your baby's feet are nothing more than sensory organs with which the infant gathers tactile information; you should therefore leave them as free as possible, limiting yourself to keeping them warm and dry, if necessary.
Don't be in a rush to buy your toddler's first pair of shoes but let him wear socks or tights made from cotton, or a cotton and wool mix, to keep feet warm while giving them room to develop.
When baby starts to crawl
After learning to sit up, your baby will start to crawl stimulating foot and toe muscles: even at this stage it is important for your child to wear soft, light and flexible shoes, that allow feet to move and bend freely without preventing proper joint impact.
Let your child spend time without shoes every day so he can exercise the muscles in his feet.
When your child takes his first steps you should remember that the best thing you can do is to allow your child to walk barefooted on any type of surfaces such as grass, uneven ground and above all on sand; this will help your child learn how to balance properly while exercising the foot soles.
After this important period of development when, at the most, all your child needs to wear are non-slip socks, the time has come for your child to wear his first shoes.
Read our recommendations on how to choose your child’s first steps shoes.
What foot problems should I watch out for?
Parents may worry about how their children’s gait in this early stage of development:
- In-toeing is when toddlers walk with their feet turning inwards
- Out-toeing is when toddlers walk with their feet turning outwards (at an angle of more than 20° outwards)
- Toe walking
Most of these problems will disappear though as your child gets older.
If you want to check how your child is walking there are different ways of getting a foot imprint: get him to walk on damp sand or you can “dust” or dampen his feet to get an imprint on a dry surface.
When is it necessary to get a referral to a foot specialist (podiatrist or chiropodist)
If after the age of 5, your child complains of pain, tires easily and has an incorrect posture, you should get a referral to a podiatrist who will tell you what to do to correct the defect and avoid hip, knee or back pain problems in adulthood.
Modern diagnostic tools include functional and dynamic tests to measure each angle and movement of the joints and can tell you a great deal more than simply an examination with a podoscope.
Surgery is suggested only in very serious cases and, in any case, never before 10-12 years of age, and only after less invasive treatment such as:
- specific, personalized orthotic insoles with cast
- posture exercises
In any case, always contact your pediatrician first, who will very probably be able to reassure you because in most cases these are problems that disappear when your child is older or, in more serious cases, he or she will give you a referral to a specialist.