How to correct flat feet

By Erin Dym on July 24, 2013
Don’t let your child’s flat feet get you down; the condition can be corrected, if treated early by a foot specialist.

“I see it all the time,” says podiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Cowen, from the JD Cowen Foot & Ankle Clinic in Toronto. “Mechanical foot problems are the reason 50 percent of parents bring their kids to see me. Eighty percent of these kids have flat feet.”

Typically hereditary, a flat foot means the foot is unstable and has a collapsed arch. If left untreated over time, it can cause the leg to rotate inward. This can lead to joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments becoming strained and overworked, which can, in turn, lead to lower back and knee problems.

Catch it early

In infancy, it’s normal for babies to have flat feet, says Dr. Cowen. “But from the time they learn to walk until age 10, the foot and ankle bones are developing and the arch is forming. In normal development, the foot grows bigger after age 10 but the structure is formed.”

That’s why foot specialists can correct the condition more effectively if caught early, starting at age three. The trick, he says, is knowing what to look for so you can treat it from the beginning.

“Typically, two- to five-year-olds won’t complain of pain, but they might rub their leg or shin area, as these muscles control the foot,” says Dr. Cowen. “Parents should observe whether their children are also walking atypically, if they are unstable when they walk or run or if their shoes are wearing out in a strange pattern.”

As kids get older, they will weigh more, perhaps be involved in more organized sports, and symptoms such as discomfort may occur. At this age, kids will be able to complain of foot or leg pain, so you will know to take them to a foot specialist right away.

Simple diagnosis

You can always start with a referral from a family doctor, but pediatricians don’t typically look for flat feet. You can also look for a licensed podiatrist. Here’s what your foot specialist will do:

  • Watch your child walk
  • Feel your child’s leg and foot with their hands
  • Check their shoes
  • Measure how your child walks with an electronic gait system (this is for older kids, aged nine and up). This test requires children to walk back and forth in a straight line a number of times.

Treatment options

  • Depending on the severity of flat footedness, your foot specialist may recommend a progressive series of corrective treatments.
  • In younger kids, parents will be asked to ensure their child avoids going barefoot on hard surfaces, such as wood, concrete or tile.
  • Your podiatrist will recommend buying kids footwear that has Velcro, rubber soles and a firm heel counter (hard back) to ensure proper support. Dr. Cowen recommends Geox, Asics and New Balance.
  • In some cases, a pediatric orthotic will be created. This is a personalized, molded support made in a lab that is designed to keep feet in the perfect position, keeping the foot, knee and back properly aligned.
  • “Kids always adapt to these simple treatments, so the earlier we see kids the better,” says Dr. Cowen. He recommends checking in with your podiatrist every year to make sure the treatment is appropriate as your child’s food develops and strengthens over the years. “It’s important that we follow them along.”

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

By Erin Dym| July 24, 2013

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