How to correct flat feet



Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes

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.

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