Toe Walking: A Guide For Parents
So your kids are (or previously have been) walking on their toes, and now you’re wondering whether it’s a normal phase that they’ll grow out of - or it’s something more. If this sounds like you - you’re in the right place. Our podiatry team is answering your questions about what’s up and down when it comes to toe walking. We’re not just kids foot health professionals - we’re parents too! Let’s start with the basics.
How is toe-walking defined, exactly?
If you’re asking this, then there’s a good chance that you’re wondering if your child only occasionally walks on their toes. The good news is that if your little one happily and comfortably walks heel-to-toe regularly, then it’s likely that there is no cause for concern. This is because they can walk normally and choose not to - as opposed to having a problem that makes regular walking painful or uncomfortable.
To answer your question, toe walking describes constant walking on the balls of the feet or the toes. This may begin as early as kids learn to walk. It can be in, shoes, out of shoes, anything.
Is toe walking normal?
The true answer to this is that it really depends on the cause. The simpler answer is that while kids are learning to walk, anytime between their first steps and the age of 2, toe walking may be completely normal. Just like walking with their feet wide apart, closer together, walking on their heels, and whatever else they want to try while they learn what feels comfortable and what doesn’t.
When toe walking isn’t normal is when it’s due to a medical condition (like cerebral palsy), in which case it’s a symptom of the condition, or when it’s related to the muscles and tendons of the feet and legs. A common example is a shortened Achilles tendon. Depending on how shortened it is, this would make it quite painful for the heel to touch the ground as it’ll pull on the tendon. This makes it more comfortable to walk on the toes than not to. This isn’t normal, and is something that can be treated by health professionals.
What causes toe walking?
Without an in-person assessment, this may be similar to asking what caused that headache you had weeks ago! Nonetheless, causes may include one or more of the following:
- Experimenting with walking style (naturally)
- Musculoskeletal problems (bones, joints, tendons, ligaments)
- Prociopetive problems (sensing where the body is in space)
- Problems with a touch response (e.g. heightened feeling at the heels that makes young kids want to avoid ground contact)
- Balance or postural problems
- Muscular weakness or inflexibility
How is toe walking treated?
As podiatrists, we are often involved in the treatment of toe walking. Treating toe walking always starts with determining the cause. Once this is understood, treatment focuses not only on solving the problem - but keeping it gone as your child continues to grow and develop.
Stretching and strengthening the muscles via a tailored rehab programme is a great way to encourage heel-to-toe gait. This involves both the parent and the child, teaching both parties activities, exercises and games.
Orthotics, rigid insoles and stabilising footwear may also be used to help support the feet and ankles during treatment.
Where needed, we include other specialists in your child’s care to help achieve the best results. We often work alongside The Physio to help teach and perform gentle massage techniques to work directly on the muscles and tendons themselves.
Don’t worry - we understand that kids are kids and tailor your child’s care to what will suit their age, skills and walking level. Our goal is to always attain the best long-term outcomes and help prevent the onset of further pains or symptoms.
If you’re still worried about your child’s toe walking…
Bring them in. We can truly say that there’s no problem too big or small when it comes to children’s feet - their feet have to carry them through so many years, milestones and sports!