Development of Children’s Feet
Author: Australian Podiatry Association Date Posted:25 October 2021
Children’s feet differ from those of adults, as they are not yet fully formed. At six months of age the foot is still mostly cartilage; in fact, the last bone doesn’t begin to form until children are about three years old. By 18 years, most of the bones are fully formed.
Baby feet only need protection in the cooler weather. Grow suits with feet, socks or small, soft natural fibre shoes should be used to keep little feet warm and should always be loose around your baby’s feet. Making time for your baby to kick freely will help with the development of the muscles in the legs and feet.
Children usually begin to walk at any time between 10 and 20 months of age. It is important to remember that each child is unique and will move through the developmental stages at their own pace. Children also roll, crawl, walk and run in their own time; there is no evidence to support the view that the use of Jolly Jumpers or baby walkers will help this to happen early. These types of equipment may put additional pressure on feet that are not yet ready for taking weight.
When your child first begins to walk, shoes should only be used when protection is needed from the ground. Allowing children to go barefoot or to wear very soft shoes helps the foot to typically develop and assists in strengthening muscles.
Sometimes children walk with their feet pointed inwards (in-toeing) or outwards (out-toeing). In most cases, these variations in walking are normal. Most children will grow out of these walking styles by the age of two; however it can sometimes take until the age of 12. If your child is not keeping up with their friends, a podiatrist may be able to assist.
Children under the age of three may sometimes walk on their tip toes and this is a typical developmental stage. Any child over the age of three and still walking on their tip toes (toe walking) should be assessed by a podiatrist.
A child’s foot grows in length and changes in shape with growth. Arch development is an individual thing and arch height or a lack of an arch does not always indicate that a child will have problems with their feet. If your child has pain or has one flat foot that differs from the other foot, a podiatrist can assist.
Due to rapid growth in length and width while young, frequent changes in the size of shoes and socks may be necessary. Do a size check at least every one to three months up to the age of three, every four months up to the age of five and every six months from five years.
Heel pain may also occur in growing children, usually between the ages of 8-14, and may be worse during or straight after sporting activities.
If your child is experiencing pain at the back of the heel that has limited their activity or causes them to limp, a podiatrist can help. Your podiatrist will be able to determine whether or not the heel pain is related to the developmental process and give advice about ways to alleviate symptoms.
Skins and nails
Problems with the skin and nails on your child’s feet may occur from time to time. Some conditions (ingrown toenails, Athlete’s foot and warts) require treatment from a podiatrist, while others may be helped by changes in hygiene or shoes.
Children also tend to be more susceptible to warts than adults. A plantar wart is often on the sole of the foot and appears to be hard and flat, with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries. If the wart is causing discomfort, a podiatrist can assist with treatment.
Shoes should, above all, protect your children’s feet.
- Always have both feet measured for length and width.
- The shoe should fit the natural shape of the foot, especially around the toes.
- The toe of the shoe should allow toes to move freely and not be squashed from the top or the sides.
- Make sure there is about 1cm growing room for children between the end of the longest toe and the end of the shoe.
- Shoes should fit comfortably around the heel and not be too loose or too tight.
- Having shoes fitted by a store that offers trained assistants can help ensure the correct size and shape to keep little feet running and jumping.
A check-up with a podiatrist is recommended if:
- You notice uneven shoe wear
- You notice any skin rashes, hard skin, lumps or bumps on your child’s feet
- Your child complains of recurrent pain in the feet and/or legs which also increases with activity Your child is constantly tripping or falling
- Your child walks on their tip toes
- Your child’s walk does not look symmetrical (or the same on both feet and legs).
- Or you have any other concerns about your child’s feet.
Source: Australian Podiatry Association of Australia - https://www.podiatry.org.au/foot-health-resources/kids/childrens-feet218