Should You Worry If Your Child is a Toe Walker?

Posted on July 10, 2013 by Elf Martin There have been 7 comment(s)

Should You Worry If Your Child is a Toe Walker?

Does your child walk on his or her toes?

Toe walking in babies and young children is very common, but prolonged toe walking often concerns parents who fear it may be symptomatic of other developmental problems. While it is recommended to refer to the advice of your doctor, a new study sheds some reassuring light on the subject.

Toe walking is just what it sounds like: walking on the balls of the feet and keeping the heels in the air. We see a lot of babies doing this in our workshop when they first learn to walk, and most stop after a few months. For some children, however, toe walking may continue for much longer and parents often wonder why. A Swedish study1 published in the August 2012 edition of Pediatrics magazine explored this topic by analyzing the walking patterns of 1,400 children.

It turns out that toe walking is common among healthy children. About 5% of children will toe walk at some time, especially under the age of three. Even at older ages many preschoolers still continue the practice and most—about half—will stop doing so on their own by age 5½. Those that continue past that age tend to do so only about 25% of the time, often out of habit.

The study did show a prevalence of toe walking among children with certain cognitive disorders, but experts say those cases also showed many other symptoms and toe walking by itself is common enough that parents should not see it as a reason for alarm. Often, children learn to toe walk from spending too much time in a baby walker during key developmental stages. Other times, it can be caused by a short or tight Achilles tendon, which makes it difficult to lower the heel while taking steps. There also appears to be a hereditary connection, as 70% of toe walkers come from families that include another relative who toe walked at some time.

Many pediatricians say toe walking is a normal part of development that will usually resolve itself in time. If it continues into older ages, concerned parents may want to seek a doctor's opinion and will often be taught stretching exercises or similar treatments to help their child loosen Achilles muscles and improve posture. One thing is certain: toe walking should not cause alarm or excessive worry—healthy kids do it a lot.

 

1The Prevalence and Course of Idiopathic Toe-Walking in 5-Year-Old Children, Engström, et al. Pediatrics 2012; 130:2 279-284


This post was posted in Foot Health and was tagged with infant, child, toe walking, toddler, doctor, worry, study

7 Responses to Should You Worry If Your Child is a Toe Walker?

  • Kelly Holman
    Kelly Holman says:

    The reference to a baby walker suggests that maybe children shouldn't use one unless their legs are long enough to reach the floor with the whole foot. Makes sense.

    Posted on August 22, 2013 at 3:32 PM

  • heather
    heather says:

    I toe walk at home sometimes, I catch myself doing it, maybe because of uncomfortable shoes, and I did as a child, too. But I always liked to 'dance' around. I have short or gibbled achilles tendons, and inherited my feet from my great grandmother apparently.
    I have seen documentaries about severely autistic kids walking tippy toes, don't think that is the case with me...

    Posted on October 20, 2013 at 10:56 PM

  • Elf Martin
    Elf Martin says:

    Nothing wrong with dancing on your toes for fun! :)

    Posted on October 22, 2013 at 6:58 AM

  • Maya Danielle
    Maya Danielle says:

    Thanks for writing and sharing your insight about feet health!

    Posted on November 18, 2013 at 8:48 AM

  • Elf Martin
    Elf Martin says:

    Thanks Maya!

    Posted on November 18, 2013 at 10:09 AM

  • Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I've been walking on my toes for as long as I can remember, and I'm seventeen now. My parents and grandmother used to warn me about wearing out my calves, back problems, and sprained ankles. I have sprained my ankle twice but not from toe walking. And the only thing it's done to my calves is actually make them stronger. Other than that it feels completely natural. I even walk up the stairs like this.

    It is a bit of habit not to walk like that in public when wearing shoes though. Some people think it's weird.

    Posted on August 30, 2016 at 1:48 PM

  • Tracy Bailitis
    Tracy Bailitis says:

    Every parent should be aware that habitual for walking is damaging if not dealt with early. My son has always done in spite of constant nagging and exercise to prevent it.
    At 7 years old he was serial casted to realign his ankles and feet. Over 6 weeks the casts were progressively changed to bring his heels back down, for him this was a painful process. It failed, and he gradually arched his feet back up and can no longer put his heels to the ground. Again spite of our efforts to prevent it.
    Fast forward to 11 years old he's a bright boy and about to enter grammar school. He cannot walk properly and no shoes will stay on his feet. He has arched feet, very tight Achilles tendon and his knees are tight too. He constantly sprains his ankles and people treat him as if he is disabled.
    He is under the care of specialists and has had nerve conduction tests and MRIs and is about to endure many operations to rebuild his feet.
    His heels being off the floor give him easily an extra 3 inches in height. He will have his bones broken and tendons and ligaments stretched to flatten his feet to how they should be.
    This is going to be a long painful process (again) but they are hoping to get it all done before he starts grammar so his schoolwork won't be affected as he has a very promising future.
    As his mum obviously I feel responsible and wish we had done more for him or nagged more and tried harder. But as soon as my back was turned he would be up on his toes. He himself wants to change this now which is what was needed to sort it out.
    So to any parent who is concerned about this and their children are over 5, definitely get them help. There is plenty that can be done including physiotherapy and serial casting.

    Posted on January 31, 2018 at 7:50 AM

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