By H. Robert Tuten, MD
One of the proudest moments in a parent’s life is watching his or her child walk for the first time. It’s common for children to walk on the tips of their toes for a while, but this behavior usually goes away after several months.
Most children will give up the habit by age two or three. If your child continues to toe-walk after this age, the cause may be a medical condition or a developmental disorder. Let’ take a look at common causes of toe walking and determine when you should bring it to the attention of your child’s doctor.
Causes of Toe Walking in Children
When children continue walking on their toes after the age of three and they can’t explain why, this is known as idiopathic toe walking. In some cases, this may just be a matter of the feet receiving extra input from the brain, which tends to subside over time.
In many other cases, toe walking is caused by a shortened heel cord or Achilles tendon. This is the tissue that stretches when the foot is flat and compresses when the foot is extended. Sometimes, an extended period of walking on his or her toes can cause a child’s heel cord to shorten.
Other toe walking causes include nerve and muscle diseases, such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, or autism. There appears to be a tendency among toe walkers to have more cognitive issues.
Seeing an Orthopedist for Toe Walking Treatment
One of the most common and successful treatments for idiopathic toe walking is to place the child’s legs in a cast that goes from the tip of their toes to just below their knee. Two three-week periods in the cast have generated success rates of about 85 percent as the cast allows your child to move just as freely as he or she did before.
Additionally, other options such as physical therapy and the use of night splints, may be used but these have lower success rates. Children with very tight heel cords may require surgery to be able to walk flat, but this affects a minority of cases. For those with cognitive issues, braces may help them begin walking correctly.
Toe walking in toddlers is a common condition, but seldom a serious one. Nevertheless, proper diagnosis and treatment will ensure your child enjoys a lifetime of healthy, active living.
If you are concerned that your child is toe walking, contact Tuckahoe Orthopaedics today to request an appointment with an orthopedist who can answer your questions.