Seeing your child walking around with flat feet can be concerning for many parents. The questions that we most get from parents bringing their kids in for their foot health checks include:
- Is it normal for their feet to be so flat?
- Are flat feet going to cause them pain or problems in the future?
- They seem to trip a lot – is that related to their flat feet?
- Should children have orthotics? Would orthotics help for flat feet?
- What should I do to help them form arches?
So today, our team of experienced podiatrists from Tahmoor & Wollondilly have answered all these questions to help you know what to do if your child has flat feet!
1. Is it normal for children to have flat feet?
If your child is aged below seven years, then in most cases, yes their flat feet are likely to be normal up to this age. When your child is first born, their feet will have a big fat pad and no strong, defined foot muscles yet – so don’t worry about whether an arch is forming until your child is at least a couple of years old.
While kids are growing and their feet and legs are developing, they go through a lot of changes – you may notice your child go through periods of in-toeing, out-toeing, toe-walking – and even having slightly knocked knees or bowed legs. It’s all part of the growth and development process as things change and they become more confident and stable on their feet.
After the age of seven, we do expect that an arch will have developed – and if it hasn’t, then they may just have a naturally flatter food posture. Circling back to the question of ‘normal’, we tend to look at this more in the context of what other symptoms or problems may also be present. Flat feet are not ‘abnormal’ on their own – neither are high-arched feet or neutral feet with a moderate arch.
What rings some alarm bells for us is when flat foot posture is paired with foot and leg pain, muscle tiredness or overuse, injuries, being unable to run as fast as other kids in the same class, and so on. This often means that the foot posture is interfering with healthy lower limb function, and your child may need some help to fix this.
2. Are their flat feet going to cause them pain or problems in the future?
Does having flat feet guarantee foot pain or problems in the future? No. Can it increase their risk and make them more vulnerable to future problems? Yes. And it’s a simple matter of anatomy and physiology.
Flat feet roll down further towards the ground and therefore stretch and strain muscles, ligaments and tendons more so than a ‘neutral’ arch does. When this occurs repetitively over time, the additional strain – or even overdoing it on a specific day – can lead to tissue damage and painful symptoms.
This can still occur in children that do have an arch, but the likelihood in children with flat feet is higher. It’s important to note that some children and ultimately adults will go through their entire lives with flat feet and no resulting foot pains – though there are so many variables that must be considered here like their physical activity involvement, the support they get from their footwear, and more.
My child seems to trip a lot – is that related to their flat feet?
It may be! When a flat foot type causes the muscles of the feet and legs to be overused, they can tire much more easily, and so it may be harder for your child to clear the ground and instead they may trip over their feet. So yes, it may – or it may be related to another problem that results in a foot drop or decreased muscles strength in the feet and legs – as one of many examples.
Should children have orthotics? Would orthotics help for flat feet?
Must all children with flat feet have orthotics? No.
Can orthotics help by supporting the foot and arch, and therefore reduce muscle tiredness and overuse injury risk? Yes, absolutely.
Are orthotics safe and comfortable for kids? Yes – they often have a much easier time getting used to them than adults do.
The best way to answer this is to acknowledge any symptoms, pains or other consequences that your child is experiencing as a result of their flat fleet. If they’re getting aches and pains then yes, it is likely that we’d use orthotics as part of their treatment plan as orthotics are an easy and effective way of giving their feet the support they are naturally lacking.
If your child has flat feet, is active, but experiences no pains and problems – then no we wouldn’t tell you that your child needs orthotics. Could they still benefit from them by reducing the risk of future injury? Sure – but that’s a choice that you would need to make as opposed to a recommendation from us in terms of solving a current problem.
What can I do to help my child form arches?
There is no single thing that can be done that will guarantee that your child develops an arch. This is because it largely depends on your child’s foot structure and the characteristics of their bones, muscles and tissues – which is largely determined by their genetics. With this said, things like wearing good supportive shoes may help.
Our best advice is to shift the focus away from the presence or absence of arches, and move it to the presence or absence of foot pain, niggles or aches, regular tripping or falling, balance or coordination issues, inability to keep up with others in their class during sports, and so on. These are much clearer indicators that something is wrong, and as with anything, it may be linked to their foot type and posture.
Still worried about your children’s feet?
As a parent, we always recommend trusting your intuition and going with your gut. If you’re concerned about your child’s feet, our experienced podiatry team here in Tahmoor, Sydney is here to help. Book their appointment with us by calling (02) 8405 6850 or book online here.