Surprisingly, most babies are naturally born with flat feet and will remain this way far into their early childhood. Until the age of six, your child’s foot bones remain flexible to an extent, as the rest of the bones in their bodies grow and solidify.
At this age, the arch in the feet develops and the bones become more solid and less like cartilage. However, around five per cent of children do not develop this arch and will continue to have flat feet into adulthood.
You can perform a simple sight test to identify if your child has flat feet. While standing, check to see how the foot contacts the ground beneath it. If the foot raises off the floor in the middle then there is an arch, if the foot makes full contact with the floor then they have flat feet.
Symptoms of flat feet
In most cases children will be asymptomatic, experiencing no noticeable symptoms other than the appearance of the foot. Children who are symptomatic may present with:
If your child presents with any of these symptoms you should schedule an appointment with a paediatric podiatrist to determine any underlying causes.
Although flat feet rarely cause issues for children, you should speak with your doctor if your child has fleet feet and has any pain, stiffness or weakness, problems with walking or balancing, is prone to foot or ankle injuries or is affected only in one foot.
The required treatment will depend on the cause, symptoms and, in some cases, their age. After an assessment, your clinician will prescribe one of the following treatments.
Flat feet can be due to tightness in the heel cord (Achilles Tendon) exercises will help to stretch this out and relieve the tightness. This will ultimately help to improve motion over time and lengthen the heel cord which may correct flat feet.
Your child may be recommended to perform more complex stretches that will need to be overseen by a physical therapist.
Your child’s doctor will likely recommend children's insoles for flat feet to provide support. Insoles are found to be the most efficient solution to alleviating pain and discomfort for children with flat feet and should not affect the development of an arch in your child’s foot.
NHS approved insoles for kids come in full length, suitable for most footwear including sport and school shoes, and ¾ length designed for narrow feet and shoes.
To aid in your child's development they should wear well fitted, comfortable and supportive footwear. Children with flat feet may cause more wear, usually uneven, to their shoes. Prolonged use of worn shoes can increase the risk of complications from flat feet. Regularly updating your child’s shoes will help to decrease this risk.
Pain relief can be prescribed for your child or purchased over the counter to alleviate discomfort and reduce any inflammation.
In severe cases of paediatric flat feet, corrective surgery is required. This will be determined by the underlying cause and extent of the condition.
Caring for your children’s feet can be a minefield, but arming yourself with the knowledge of what is normal and when to worry can save your child from a multitude of future health problems caused by poor foot care in their early years.