Does a Child Need Orthotics?
If there is a potential problem with the structure of a living thing, providing early support will often be the easiest and most effective route to improvement.
Take a tree, for example. If you see signs of it leaning as a sapling, you would not wait until it was fully grown to support its foundation. By then, the tree has likely grown solidly in the wrong direction and is experiencing plenty of stress. It might even have collapsed!
When it comes to your child’s foot structure, a somewhat similar approach is taken. The sooner a problem can be addressed, the less of an effect that problem is likely to cause once your child is fully grown. In many cases, this treatment can take the form of children’s custom orthotics.
However, your child is a more complex being than a tree. It is best to know when there is a potential problem to address and when the symptoms we are seeing may be a normal part of development.
Growing Feet Can Have Unexpected Shapes
It would not be wise to automatically prescribe orthotics for every time a child’s feet show some sort of abnormality—especially when they are very young. This is because feet that are just starting out have a lot of work to do before they reach their final shapes.
Most children are born without the arches that we so commonly imagine when we think of a foot. This sometimes throws parents off guard, but it is often not anything to be concerned about.
Newborns frankly don’t need arches, as their feet are not having to support anything. Once your child starts learning to walk, however, the arches should start to become more defined and developed.
At this point, parents may see another odd-looking but common phenomenon. Their child’s feet may appear to have arches until they actually stand up—then those arches just up and disappear! As soon as the child sits or rises up onto their toes, however, the arches tend to come back.
This condition is known as flexible flatfoot, and the important word here is “flexible.” As long as the foot is still growing and developing, odds are likely that the flat feet will gradually vanish, and the arches remain full time.
Parents might see other abnormal displays as their child grows, such as their feet turned inward or outward while walking, or spending a long amount of time walking on their toes. These behaviors are also often part of a child learning to walk and training their muscles to move properly.
However (yes, there must be a “however”) …
While flat feet and other symptoms of abnormal structure often go away as the child grows older, they sometimes do not. That “flexible” flatfoot can become rigid and permanent, and that can contribute to problems such as persistent pain or increased risk of sports injuries.
When you see flexible flatfoot or abnormal walking patterns in your child, best practice is to let us know about it. This is something we can monitor over time as your child grows, to see whether it is improving or not. If not, we can then take action early on and address the issue much more easily than later on in life.
So When Might a Child Need Orthotics?
Using orthotics while the feet are still developing does not tend to be an effective decision. The foot bones should be properly formed and in position before orthotics are even a consideration.
At around the age of 6 years, most children’s foot bones will be set. The only further development they will take at this time is growing larger into adulthood. In some cases, however, a child’s feet may be set in their structure earlier, at age 5, and there may always be further exceptions to the rules.
Even if flat feet or another form of structural abnormality is found in the feet around this age, this also does not necessarily mean that action needs to be taken. Many people have flat feet but do not exhibit any symptoms of pain or discomfort. If your child does not show any signs that their structural abnormality will cause them any trouble with their walking, running, and other activities, there may be no need for orthotics.
Again, though, it may require evaluations and a careful parental eye to determine whether symptoms are occurring. A child might not want to complain of foot pain out of fear of treatment, fear of missing out on activities, or other reasons. If you see signs of pain such as limping, favoring one side or the other, or ending playtime or activities earlier than usual, it may be worth discussing with your child.
What Would Orthotics Mean for My Child?
Custom orthotics are prescribed and molded specifically to the needs of a patient’s foot, and often take the form of inserts that are placed within shoes.
While orthotics are designed to provide support and alignment for purposes of relief from pain and discomfort, they will not cause permanent correction. Your child may have to wear orthotics for many years, or for the rest of their life.
While professionally-made orthotics are built to last much longer and provide much greater effects than those purchased over the counter, they will still need routine maintenance, refurbishment, and replacement. As your child’s feet continue to grow, the need for newly updated orthotics will present itself.
In addition to orthotics, other recommendations may be made. These can include changes to footwear, exercises to strengthen soft tissues in the foot and ankle, and other treatments. All can be part of a holistic plan to reduce discomfort and reduce the risks of pain or injury in the future.
If you are seeing abnormal forms of walking or foot shape in your younger child, or your older child is showing symptoms of persistent foot pain, we can help. Call one of our locations below to schedule an appointment with us:
- Warren – (732) 356-3668
- Hillsborough – (908) 722-3668
- Edison – (908) 222-8980
Or simply take advantage of our request form online to have one of our trained staff members reach out to you.