Every parent knows that children’s feet grow rapidly in their early years and understanding every different problem, including flat feet in children, that can arise during this time can be confusing.
Each stage of their foot development, up to their late teens, will play its part in determining your child’s future health. It is therefore vitally important to know the most common foot complaints in children and how to identify, prevent and correct them.
Paediatric flat feet is one of the most common conditions parents worry about, mostly without due cause. That’s why we have put together the complete guide to flat feet in children to help reassure, advise, and inform you that your child has a solid foundation for their future foot health.
What are flat feet in children?
Paediatric flat feet, also known as fallen arches, are simply children's feet that do not have an arch. You can identify this by noticing when your child’s foot is flat to the floor; the middle of the foot touches the ground instead of having the usual arch lift seen in most adults.
Flat feet in children is a common foot complaint that usually doesn’t cause symptoms and will correct itself over the course of their infant years.
If your child starts to show symptoms such as pain and discomfort you should speak with a pharmacist or doctor in the first instance to rule out other causes and to seek out immediate treatment and relief.
What causes flat feet?
It’s a little-known fact that babies are often born with naturally flat feet and will remain this way far into their early childhood. When we’re born, our bones are still in the midst of growing and solidifying and in the early years, particularly in feet, they remain flexible to an extent.
Flat feet can continue until around age six, when the arch in the feet develops and the bones become less like cartilage and more like the standard bones around our body. However, around 5% of children do not develop this arch and can continue to have flat feet as they grow and develop into their teens and adulthood.
Paediatric flat feet can also be a symptom caused by:
- Tight Achilles tendons
- Muscle problems
- Foot bone deformities
- Genetic disorders (such as down syndrome or osteogenesis imperfecta)
What are the symptoms of flat feet?
In most cases of flat feet in kids will be asymptomatic, experiencing no negative symptoms beyond the appearance of the foot. Children with symptomatic flat feet, however, may present with:
- An awkward walk or changes to their gate
- Low mobility of the foot moving up, down and side-to-side
- Foot pain when wearing shoes
- Pain in the lower extremities, between the knee and foot
- A noticeable tilt to the heel
- Avoidance of physical activity
If your child presents with any of these flat feet symptoms you should schedule an appointment with a paediatric podiatrist.
How can flat feet in children be treated?
The required treatment for flat feet in your child will depend on the cause, symptoms and, in some cases, their age. After assessment your clinician will prescribe one of the following treatments.
Over the counter pain relief can be prescribed for your child to alleviate discomfort and reduce any inflammation caused by the symptoms of flat feet.
If flat feet are due to tightness in the heel cord, also known as the Achilles Tendon, then certain exercises may be needed to stretch this out and relieve the tightness.
This will ultimately help to improve motion over time and lengthen the heel cord which may correct flat feet.
Your child may be recommended to undertake physical therapy to perform more complex stretches that will need to be overseen by a therapist to ensure they are performed correctly.
Your child’s doctor will likely recommend children's insoles for flat feet or a shoe insert to provide support. While insoles cannot create an arch for the child, it will provide enough support to relieve pressure, pain and discomfort.
All children should wear well fitted, comfortable and supportive footwear to aid in proper foot development. Children with flat feet may cause more wear to their shoes, usually uneven wear which with prolonged use can increase the risk of complications from flat feet.
Buying a pair of durable shoes that properly fit your child's feet will help to decrease this risk.
We want to give parents the best information possible to understand, prevent and correct flat feet in children. We've provided answers to some of the frequently asked questions we receive about flat feet in children.
How do you know if you have flat feet?
You can perform a simple sight test to identify if your child has flat feet. While standing, check to see how their foot contacts the ground beneath it. If their foot raises off the floor in the middle then there is an arch. If their foot makes full contact with the floor then they have flat feet.
You can book an appointment with a podiatrist who will examine your child’s feet for differences in appearance when they stand and sit. They will also test your child’s range of motion, gate, lower legs and hips to determine any underlying causes.
Are there different types of flat feet?
There are two different types of flat feet in children and adults:
- Flexible feet present an arch when you sit, stand or tiptoe that is not present when walking.
- Rigid feet do not present an arch when walking, sitting, standing or tiptoeing.
When should I call a doctor?
Flat feet rarely cause issues for children, but you should speak with your doctor if your child has fleet feet and has any pain, stiffness or weakness, problems with walking or balancing, is prone to foot or ankle injuries, or is affected only in one foot.
Is surgery ever required?
In severe cases of paediatric flat feet, corrective surgery may be required. This will be determined by the underlying cause and extent of the condition.
Caring for your children’s feet can be a minefield. For more information, advice, and support on flat feet in children and how our range of children's orthotic insoles can provide relief get in touch with a member of the FootActive team today.