It can take time for children to learn to walk and navigate the world around them. Kids may lean on objects, walk on tiptoe, or experiment with different leg and foot motions before they develop a normal gait. While gait variations are common in young children, you may want to see a podiatrist if your child is missing important milestones, experiencing pain, or suffering functional limitations because of their walk.
Types of Gait Abnormalities in Children
In-toeing and out-toeing are the most common gait problems in young children. Toddlers may walk with their feet angled toward each other (pigeon-toed) or with their toes pointed outward. In-toeing is a concern because it can cause the arches to collapse (flat feet) and the child to walk on the outer ridges of the foot.
Other problems that can affect a child's ability to walk include:
- Knee deformities. A child's legs may bend outward (bowlegs) or curve inward at the knees (knock knees).
- Antalgic gait. If a child places weight on only one side of the body to avoid pain, they may have an underlying condition causing this antalgic gait.
- Circumduction gait. Circumduction gait, or walking with one leg sweeping outward and then forward, may be caused by two different leg lengths.
- Spastic gait. Neurological diseases can result in a child dragging or stiffening their feet.
- Ataxic gait. Children who don't have complete control of their motor functions (such as those with cerebral palsy) may stumble, lose balance, or take wide steps.
- Trendelenburg's gait. This gait is caused by hip dysfunction and results in a walk where one hip drops much lower than the other.
- Toe-walking. Toe-walking in young children usually resolves on its own, but some children may need interventions to relax the tendons in the foot and bring the heel down to the ground.
- Stepping gait. Commonly seen in children with polio or spina bifida, stepping gait occurs when a child lifts their entire leg at the hip instead of bending at the knee.
- Clumsy. Clumsy gait is a general difficulty using gross or fine motor skills. Children may run into objects, trip, stumble, or have trouble dressing themselves.
How Podiatrists Diagnose Gait Problems
If your child has difficulty walking or loses balance quickly, you should consult a podiatrist for an evaluation. There are many methods used to diagnose a gait problem, such as:
- Observation of your child while walking, standing, or running
- Physical examination of your child's feet and legs to check for misalignment
- Reviewing your family medical history to see if the condition may be hereditary
- Imaging tests (such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans) to check bone positions and determine if there are any problems in the joints or soft tissues of the body.
Treatments to Correct Childhood Gait Problems
Most childhood gait problems will resolve independently, but some require intervention to prevent limb or posture abnormalities. If your child's condition places them at risk of delayed development or permanent misalignment, we may recommend:
- Custom orthotics. Custom orthotics are highly beneficial at a young age, as children adapt to them quickly, and improvement can be seen in a matter of days. Orthotics are worn inside the shoes, holding the child's foot in the proper position and preventing them from developing secondary injuries like flat feet.
- Exercises. Stretching and physical therapy exercises that target specific groups of muscles can improve coordination and encourage proper weight-bearing in the legs and feet.
- Surgery. If the problem doesn't resolve with age and conservative treatments, children may need surgery to release tight tendons preventing the foot and toes from flexing naturally.
The earlier your child's gait is evaluated by a qualified professional, the better your chance of avoiding long-term complications. If you have questions about your child's feet, request an appointment online or call (208) 731-6321 to speak with our team in either Twin Falls or Burley.