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There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it — kids have cute feet, y’all. C’mon, don’t act like you haven’t pretended at some point that you were going to gobble your little one’s toesies up because they’re so gosh darn adorable. We get it. Those piggies are precious. So, when you notice they look flat, you worry. Because you don’t want anything affecting those yummy digits, yes, but also because you’re a mama and, well, that’s just what you do. And you start Googling. Luckily, you’re not alone in this. According to the most recent search data available, the topic of toddlers and flat feet is searched for over a 1,000 times per month.
But are flat feet in kids a cause for concern? We took a closer look.
Why do my toddler’s feet look flat?
It goes without saying that you think every part of your little pumpkin is practically perfect. However, your parenting instincts usually ping when you can tell something isn’t quite right. In this case, you’ve started to wonder why your baby’s feet look flat, and that’s a valid concern.
The medical term for flat feet is pes planus, although you may also hear it referred to as overpronation or flexible flat foot. And, if we’re really being honest, they’re not hard to spot. Take it from a mom whose son’s feet were affectionately dubbed “Flintstone feet” when he was a baby. Flat feet are precisely what they sound like — feet that seemingly lack an arch and thus most or all of their foot touches the floor.
How common is this?
You’re probably curious to know if flat feet in kids is quote-unquote normal. In which case, it should relieve you a little to hear that it is, in fact, normal in babies and toddlers. In fact, a study performed by doctors with the Medical University of Vienna’s Department of Orthopedics found that up to 44 percent of three- to six-year-olds exhibit flat feet. Most children will grow out of this condition by the age of six, though.
What causes flat feet in kids?
Myriad reasons for flat feet in kids exist. But let’s look at the two core reasons so many babies appear to have flat feet when born. You see, kids’ bones and joints are flexible. This causes their feet to flatten when they stand (hence this condition being called flexible flat foot). Plus, babies are born with a fat pad in the arch area, so the arch doesn’t usually develop until the age of 2 or 3.
Still, there are other causes of this condition in kids. You might even need to look in the mirror — some kiddos inherit it. For children who can’t look to genetics for their flat feet, there may be a physiological reason. For example, some children may start with tightness of the heel cord, or Achilles tendon. This limits the motion of the foot and can result in flat foot. Alternately, if your child’s ligaments are too stretchy, their heel bone may rotate in, collapsing the arch.
In fact, according to HealthyChildren.org, one or two out of every 10 children will continue to have flat feet into adulthood. And while shoes won’t help your children develop an arch, the right shoe will offer the support the foot and ankle need, all while alleviating any discomfort that may be caused by wearing the wrong type of shoe.
How are flat feet diagnosed?
If you suspect your child may be flat-footed, you can do a little at-home diagnostic test. Have your little cutie stand barefoot, facing away from you. Stand directly behind them and take a picture. Can you see their pinky toe and big toe in the picture? Or do you see the pinky toe and ring toe but not big toe? If the latter is true, your child is possibly overpronating.
Of course, this is just for reference. You’ll need to consult with your child’s pediatrician for an actual diagnosis. As for what age flat feet can be diagnosed, your pediatrician should be able to tell by the time your child is 4 or 5 if they are truly flat-footed (the arch usually doesn’t develop until age 2 or 3).
Will my child need special treatment?
Typically, flat feet correct on their own as your child develops muscle strength and their soft tissues stiffen. But if not, don’t fret! Flat foot is not generally considered a cause for major concern. If your little one isn’t experiencing pain or any other symptoms, their pediatrician will likely just keep an eye on it and not require any further testing or treatment.
If your child is experiencing foot pain, pressure on the inside of the foot, stiffness and limited side-to-side motion, limited up-and-down motion, or sores developing on the inner side of the foot, their doctor may order imaging tests such as X-rays or EOS imaging to better assess your child’s condition.
What is Hyperpronation and how is it related to flat feet?
Hyperpronation occurs in people with flat feet when the ankle bone turns inward and the rest of the foot turns outward. Additionally, when too much body weight is placed on the inside of the foot when the person is walking or running. This also happens when the arch in the foot is flattened as weight is applied.
Symptoms of hyperpronation are:
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Heel Spurs
- Post-tib Tendonitis
So, how can I help?
Their pediatrician may recommend a range of non-surgical options to help alleviate problems stemming from flat feet, such as pain or improper walking pattern. These include treatments like arch supports, supportive shoes, foot-specific stretches, weight loss (if a child is overweight, it may add stress to the feet), over-the-counter pain relievers, or physical therapy.
While surgery isn’t the norm for flexible flat feet, it may be recommended in special circumstances — say, if your child has a related foot or leg problem. For further treatment, their pediatrician may refer you to a podiatrist or pediatric orthopedic physician.
If this is not the case for your child, a pediatrician may recommend extra time going barefoot. A 2008 study in Gait & Posture found that’s because wearing shoes too early may actually impede the development of a healthy arch in children. That goes double for closed-toed shoes.