Walking is one skill that no one gets right on the first try. It takes patience and practice for little ones to learn to pull themselves up and take those first, unsteady, waddling steps forward. Even once they do get the hang of it and start cruising around the house at full speed, kids won’t develop a fully “adult-like” gait for several years. When checking children's feet for gait abnormalities, it can be hard to etermine what is normal. Coordination takes time. Bones and joints still need to develop.
In other words? The lack of a picture-perfect stride isn’t necessarily a problem. However, there are certain gait abnormalities that could be cause for more concern. Learning to identify these walking patterns early, and scheduling an appointment for your child with a foot specialist, can help you obtain any necessary treatment sooner—or at the very least, can give you peace of mind!
What's Normal in Children's Gait
First, we’ll look at what’s normal. Typically, children under 3 years of age take a wide stance for better balance, and take rapid, short strides. Toddlers especially tend to take high steps and may stick out their arms. Step frequency usually doesn’t start to slow until your son or daughter is school age, and their strides and posture may not start to look fully “adult” until almost 8.
That said, common gait variations (from relatively normal to abnormal) that might need a closer look include:
- Flat feet. “Flexible” flat feet (the arch flattens only when bearing weight) is common among young children and normally resolves naturally, but it’s wise to get it checked anyway.
- Toe walking. Walking on toes is somewhat common in the early stages of learning to walk, but if it persists beyond age 3 there may be a problem that needs to be addressed.
- Intoeing. Toes point inward due to rotation in the feet, shins, or thighs. This may be associated with a knock-kneed gait.
- Out-toeing. Essentially the opposite of intoeing, it may be associated with a bow-legged gait. Certain forms of out-toeing may not be apparent until the child is several years old, but pronounced bow-legged walking usually resolves by around 18 months.
- Limping. This could have many causes. It usually indicates a simple source of pain or other discomfort, but in other cases could be due to a disease or condition with more serious and/or permanent consequences.
These are just some of the most frequent possibilities. Other gait abnormalities can be caused by anything from leg length discrepancies, to neurological conditions, to weak muscles and more.
If anything looks out of place with the way your child is walking, bring them to see Dr. Matt Wettstein and the team at Advanced Foot & Ankle Center.