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Toe Walking: What Every Parent Should Know

Feb 01, 2023
Have you noticed that your child walks on their toes instead of their entire foot? They may be toe-walking, but what does that mean? Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about toe walking, including treatment options.

Watching your child walk for the first time is exciting, but what if they don’t walk correctly? It's not uncommon for children to walk on their toes when they first learn to walk, but if it continues, it could be due to an underlying leg problem.

If you're concerned about how your child is walking, our Toe-Tal Foot & Ankle Care team has the tools to help. Dr. Daniel Cairns is our podiatry specialist who offers care to the community of Watauga, Texas, including children with foot disorders.

What is toe walking?

Toe walking is a childhood condition where your child walks on the toes or balls of their feet instead of on their entire foot.

It's common for children to toe walk early as they learn to stay on their feet. However, if toe walking continues, it can lead to issues later on as your child grows.

Toe walking is usually OK if your child is under two. It's expected as they get their balance, and they'll usually begin to walk with their heels down as they get more comfortable.

Signs and symptoms of toe walking

The most significant sign of toe walking is your child constantly walking on the balls of their feet instead of the entire foot. However, if your child is very young, they can generally walk if you ask.

However, with continued toe walking, you may notice other symptoms as well, including:

  • Heel cord tightness
  • Pain in their feet
  • Trouble with coordination
  • Problems with balance
  • Issues wearing shoes
  • Frequent falls
  • Inability to heel walk

If your child continues to walk on their toes, they often have trouble participating in sports events or recreational activities.

Causes of toe walking

The cause of toe walking is sometimes unknown. It may be something your child does out of habit, or it may be due to other biological issues, including:

  • Shortened Achilles tendon
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Certain brain disorders
  • Spinal cord abnormalities
  • Nerve and muscular disorders

If your child had clubfoot at birth, they're more prone to toe walking because their muscles and tendons shorten as they grow. The shortened tissues make it harder for your child to touch their heels to the ground.

Older children who toe walk are either so used to walking that way they have a hard time walking with a normal gait. Their tendons and calf muscles may have tightened over time from the continued toe walking.

How is toe walking treated?

The treatment Dr. Cairns recommends depends on your child's age and toe walking severity. Sometimes, observation is all that's required as your child grows. Dr. Cairns may wait and see how your child develops, and they may stop toe walking on their own.

However, if your child continues to toe walk past the age of two, Dr. Cairns recommends the following types of treatment:

Physical therapy

The goal of physical therapy for toe walking is to stretch your child's foot muscles to improve their range of motion. Physical therapy for toe walking often involves casting, which allows your child's calf muscles and tendons to stretch and lengthen.

Leg bracing

Dr. Cairns also recommends leg bracing to help lengthen your child's calf muscles and tendons. Leg bracing may come after serial casting in physical therapy to continue to help your child generally walk on their feet.

In severe cases of toe walking where other treatment methods haven't been successful, Dr. Cairns may recommend surgery to correct the issue.

Call our Toe-Tal Foot & Ankle Care team today at 817-518-7348 to make an appointment with Dr. Cairns for your child's toe walking. You may also send us a message on the website.