From the time a baby is born, to when they become an adult, the feet and legs go through many developmental stages. Sometimes these stages may cause concern for parents if they are unsure whether their child’s gait is considered normal for their age. Here is a brief rundown of what you may expect, but remember, there are a lot of variations on ‘normal’ and if you are concerned it is best to check with your healthcare professional.
When do children start walking?
The average age for a child to start walking is anywhere between 10 and 18 months, though it could be earlier or later than this and still be of no concern. It is usually recommended to check with your healthcare professional if your child is not walking by 18 months to ensure that there are no problems.
Curved Feet / Metatarsus Adductus
Sometimes a child’s forefoot may curve inwards in relation to the rest of the foot. This is called Metatarsus
Adductus and is a result of the positioning of the feet in the womb. Usually this resolves by the time the child is 2-3 years old. In some cases exercises to promote the foot straightening may be advised, and in rare cases specialised braces or shoe inserts may be required. Children who have metatarsus adductus should have their hips checked to ensure they are in the correct position.
When a child first starts walking they have their legs wide apart to give themselves more stability. As they become more proficient at walking they will bring their legs closer together. They also often start with bow legs as a result of the positioning in the womb. This usually resolved by 18months – 3 years old.
In-toeing and Out-toeing
Some children in-toe when they first start walking due to the shin bones being rotated inwards, this usually corrects itself within 6 months or so of the child beginning walking. It is also common for children to out-toe when they are around 2 years old, and then in-toe when they are 3-4 years old before the feet then straightening out. Unless the in-toeing or out-toeing is excessive, it is most likely to be part of their normal development and will rectify itself in time.
Most children start off looking like they have flat feet. This is partly because the fatty pad under the arch makes it look as though the arch is flat, and partly because the arch hasn’t developed completely yet. It usually takes until a child is around 7 years old for them to develop a proper arch and an adult style of gait. If the feet appear to be very flat, there is an hereditary predisposition to flat feet, or the child is experiencing pain then it is best to have them examined by a healthcare professional.
Footwear for Children
Bare feet are best when a child starts walking (as long as the surroundings are safe). This helps the feet develop strength and co-ordination. Any shoes that are worn should be flexible and soft and not constrict the feet in any way; they are for protection only. The bones in a child’s feet are still partially cartilage so they can be pushed out of shape if they are squashed in to ill-fitting shoes. The shoes should be lightweight and made of breathable fabrics such as leather or canvas.
Orthotics / Arch Supports
Arch supports are not usually recommended for children under 7 unless they are suffering pain in their legs or feet. Arch supports may be required if the child has feet that are flatter than normal and are causing them pain (this may be an inherited condition), if they have a musculoskeletal or neurological condition that has effected the biomechanics of the feet, or if the child is overweight and it is causing harm to the feet.