What Is Pediatric Foot Care?
Pediatric foot care is a specialized form of podiatry for children with gait abnormalities, foot or ankle injuries, or unexplained foot or ankle pain. Several types of podiatric conditions can affect children of all ages, and without proper diagnosis and personalized treatment, these conditions can progress and persist into adulthood.
Because a child’s feet and ankles help balance and stabilize their entire body, untreated podiatric conditions can also cause musculoskeletal problems in the legs, hips, and back.
Common Pediatric Foot & Ankle Concerns
Children of all ages can develop podiatric issues that may require treatment from a foot and ankle specialist. Some of the most common pediatric foot and ankle concerns include:
- Ingrown toenails. This condition occurs when a toenail cuts into the surrounding skin as it grows. If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can cause infection, swelling, redness, and pain.
- Abnormal gait. Several podiatric conditions can cause a child to develop gait abnormalities, including flat feet, tissue damage, bone abnormalities, and others.
- Flat feet. This condition occurs when a child’s feet fail to develop a natural arch or when their feet gradually flatten during adolescence.
- In-toeing. This condition is characterized by toes that point inward rather than straight.
- Out-toeing. This condition is characterized by toes that point outward rather than straight.
- Foot and ankle pain. Injuries, genetics, and other podiatric issues can cause foot and ankle pain that should be diagnosed by a pediatric foot care specialist. If left untreated, heel pain, shin splints, sports injuries, and gait-related discomfort can cause further problems.
- Foot deformities. Pediatric foot deformities refer to several conditions that affect the bones and soft tissues in the feet, including club foot, cleft foot, vertical talus, and others.
- Tarsal coalition. This genetic condition occurs when an abnormal connection forms between two or more bones in the foot. It can cause stiffness and pain and may increase the risk of ankle sprains or flat feet.
Diagnosis of Podiatric Issues in Children
A pediatric foot specialist diagnoses children’s foot and ankle conditions by performing a thorough physical exam of the feet and ankles and discussing the child’s symptoms. Depending on the condition, a specialist may order various types of imaging, such as X-rays and MRIs, to assess bone and tissue health.
Types of Pediatric Foot Care Treatment
Treatment for children’s podiatric issues depends on the child’s condition and its severity. Some conditions may respond well to conservative, at-home treatments, such as over-the-counter pain medications, rest, ice, bandage compression, and elevation. Other conditions may require specialized, office-based treatment, such as:
- Physical therapy. Exercises and stretches prescribed by a specialist can help restore flexibility and range of motion to injured or stiff tissues. They may also help normalize gait problems.
- Bracing. Foot, ankle, and leg braces can help improve stability and alignment to encourage proper healing after injury or proper tissue development for certain podiatric issues.
- Crutches. Supporting the body with crutches after a foot or ankle injury can help a child keep weight off the injured area as they walk, allowing the injury to heal properly.
- Splinting or casting. Pediatric fractures may require splinting for stabilization and proper healing.
- Custom orthotics. These custom-designed shoe inserts help stabilize and support a child’s foot and can help normalize foot and ankle posture and gait.
- Surgical intervention. Surgery may be necessary for serious foot and ankle conditions that cause considerable pain or that may get worse as a child ages.