If your child has flat feet, there may be no need for worry – it could be normal for their age.
Many parents become concerned when they notice that their child has flat feet. Depending on the age of your child, it may be nothing to worry about or it may indicate fallen arches, which Podiatrists call pes planus.
When a child is born, their feet are definitely flat – well, more like chubby. That’s because the foot needs to be very flexible while the baby is in the womb. Until a child is about three years old, her foot is made mostly of cartilage and you’ll notice very little change in it’s appearance until her feet are bearing weight – standing, walking, running.
Between the ages of two and three, your child’s foot will start to show it’s true shape as her baby fat and cartilage diminish and the bones become more prominent. Ligaments and tendons start to strengthen at this time as well. Yet, the foot may still look flat. In fact, 90% of two year olds exhibit flat feet, but by the time they’re ten, only 10-15% have flat feet.
When does the arch of the foot form?
The arch of the foot begins to develop between the ages of two and four, as your child walks more and more. Your child is growing, changing posture, and building their muscles, and as they do, the tarsal bones develop in the foot and the connective tissues that bridge the midfoot. Thus, the arch forms… or doesn’t.
If your child is halfway through their second year and their arch is still not developing, then it’s time to visit East Penn Foot and Ankle Associates for a complete diagnosis of your child’s foot.
A study published in 2009 found that overweight children have a higher incidence of flat feet than children of normal weight. The cause and effect is unclear and it remains to be seen if overweight kids will grow into adulthood with pes planus.
When do I need to worry about my child’s flat feet?
If your child’s feet are still very flat by the time she is eight years old, she will likely complain of aching, fatigue in her legs or arches, and difficulty keeping up with other kids during athletic activities. She may also complain of pain or fatigue in the lower back, hips, knees, or legs due to the compromised mechanics caused by the flatfoot deformity. This is when you should call a podiatrist for a thorough examination of your child’s foot and a course of treatment.
Treatment for flat feet
If your child has a mild flatfoot deformity and no symptoms, your podiatrist may simply recommended a yearly check-up to monitor the development of their feet. If your child has a moderate to severe flatfoot deformity and does have significant symptoms in the foot or lower extremity, treatment may include:
- Supportive shoes
- In-shoe inserts such as arch padding
- Functional foot orthotics which limit the abnormal flat arch and stabilize the heel
- Calf muscle stretching exercises – tight calf muscles may worsen flatfoot deformity and make symptoms worse
- Surgery in the most extreme cases
The biggest question a physician must answer when examining your child’s feet: Will this child’s flat feet remain stiff and inflexible into adulthood? Some flat feet remain that way but create no symptoms. Others remain stiff and inflexible, with the loss of inward and outward movement (inversion and eversion). In this case, they can be responsible for quite a bit of discomfort. A podiatrist is expert at spotting inconsistencies in the structure of the foot and is in the best position to ascertain how serious your child’s problem is… or will be.
How can my child avoid getting flat feet?
Here’s some food for thought: Researchers in India found that flat feet were far more prevalent among people who wore footwear before the age of six. Kids who went barefoot for most of their first six years – the formative years for feet – had better developed arches and exhibited flat feet far less often. No other factors had comparable impacts. It may seem counterintuitive to parents, but letting young children run barefoot as often as possible may be the best way to insure that their feet develop properly.