Many people think of podiatry as a practice specializing in foot care for adults. However, like adults, children can experience foot issues that require specialized care. A specialty known as podopediatrics is a podiatrist that diagnoses and treats children’s foot problems. Taking a child to see a podiatrist at a young age means treating problems at a time when recovery may be faster.
A podiatrist evaluates foot ailments that could impact your child for life and also offers treatment options. Foot problems that young children experience can continue into adulthood and lead to other issues, such as back pain and hip problems. Children suffering from issues with their feet may find walking and other physical activities painful. Discomfort caused by childhood foot problems can lead to inactivity, contributing to obesity. Taking a child to a doctor who practices podopediatrics helps them get proper care.
A pediatrician is a medical doctor who focuses on children’s health. Most children see a pediatrician shortly after birth. The pediatrician continues to provide medical care for children until they reach adulthood. Pediatricians treat childhood ailments, but they also evaluate children to ensure they meet developmental milestones.
Pediatricians provide well-child checks, diagnose growth issues and treat acute and chronic childhood conditions. However, a pediatrician doesn’t focus on a specific area, such as keeping a child’s feet healthy. When the pediatrician discovers a child has a foot problem that requires evaluation and treatment, they refer the child to a podiatrist who specializes in podopediatrics to ensure a correct diagnosis and get proper foot care.
Adults may be surprised to learn that children can experience many foot problems. Children’s foot doctors diagnose and treat several conditions, including ankle sprains, clubfoot, flat feet, ingrown toenails, pigeon toes (intoeing), Sever’s disease, sports injuries and toe-walking.
It’s common for an active child to sprain an ankle. Ankle sprains occur due to stretching and tearing the ankle-supporting ligaments. Running, playing and participating in sports are activities where it’s common to roll, turn or twist an ankle. Ankle sprains can be severe when they involve several ligaments.
Clubfoot is a condition at birth where the foot is twisted or distorted, making it difficult to walk. In a child with clubfoot, the tendons (connective tissue) are shorter. Children get better results from early treatment.
Flat feet describes a condition in which the entire sole lies flat on the ground. Some people refer to flat feet as fallen arches. Children with flat feet can outgrow the condition. However, a child’s podiatrist can assess the situation to determine if interventions such as customized arch supports and special shoes can help.
Heel pain is common in children and can result from growth spurts. When a child’s bones grow faster than the muscles surrounding them, it can cause an inflammatory response.
The muscles and tendons can stretch and become uncomfortably tight. The painful condition that results is known as Sever’s disease.
Children typically experience growth spurts between ages seven and 15. Heel pain from Sever’s disease can occur in one or both heels.
Sever’s disease can be mild or chronic. Ice, over-the-counter medications and rest can help mild heel pain, but chronic cases may require custom orthotic treatment.
Ingrown toenails can be painful at any age. For children, they may be especially bothersome. When a toenail grows inward, it digs into the side of the toenail bed. Nails trimmed too short and tight-fitting shoes can lead to ingrown toenails in children.
Hitting the toe on something hard (stubbing) and deformed feet or toes can also contribute. Due to pain and risk of infection, a child with ingrown toenails should get treatment ASAP.
Plantar warts are a type of skin growth caused by the human papillomavirus. The infection usually occurs on your child’s feet and can be found anywhere from heel to toe, but they’re most commonly seen in the ball-of-foot area or “plantar”. They can be small or large and often look raised with surrounding callus and small black dots inside.
These lesions are treatable with powerful topical cream applications but sometimes excision surgical procedure is needed as a last resort.
A child described as having pigeon toes walks with the feet pointed inward. Pigeon toe is also called intoeing and is common in children. Some infants begin to walk with their feet turned inward, while others develop the habit later.
Pigeon toes can come from hip, lower leg and foot deformities. The child’s podiatrist can observe their gait and conduct other assessments to determine the extent of the condition and recommend treatment for intoeing.
Foot and ankle injuries from sports are common in children, with about 10% being ankle sprains. Baseball, football, soccer and tennis are sports where children experience injuries from overuse, twisting the foot or ankle or contact with teammates.
Untreated sports injuries can cause problems later. Whenever a child complains of pain in the foot or ankle after playing sports, they should get medical help immediately.
Some children learn to walk on the balls of their feet. When children walk in this manner where the heels don’t contact the ground, it’s known as toe-walking. In most children, the condition resolves after age two.
Children may continue toe-walking as a habit. A podiatrist who treats children can assess the child to determine if there’s an underlying medical condition that may contribute to toe-walking.
Taking a child to see a podiatrist early can help them avoid complex foot and gait problems as they get older. There are signs a child can benefit from seeing a podiatrist. Children whose parents have foot problems may also develop issues. Complaints of foot pain can signal that a child may have an ankle sprain, foot injury or other problems. If a child is tripping and falling frequently or has trouble keeping up with their peers while playing, foot pain or injury could be the cause. A podiatrist can evaluate the situation when a child complains of foot or ankle pain after playing sports and recommend treatment options.
Parents and caregivers who suspect a child has an ankle disorder or other pediatric foot issues shouldn’t hesitate to make an appointment for an evaluation. Podiatrists that specialize in podopediatrics can diagnose conditions and prescribe custom orthotics or other solutions to address foot and ankle issues.