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Love A Toe Walker? 

Love a Toe Walker? 

Take Steps to help Your Child

Toe walking is a common pattern of early locomotion in healthy, young children and is almost always in both legs at the same time. However, toe walking after age three should be evaluated. In many cases, toe walking in older children is simply a habit resulting in tight heel cords or Achilles tendons and not a sign of a serious underlying problem. This is referred to as idiopathic toe walking – which means its cause is unknown.But toe walking, accompanied by other signs and symptoms, may be due to other conditions.

Some kids develop hypersensitive feet so they tend to walk on the forefoot and seem to avoid heel contact. Usually, these kids have feet that are super-ticklish.Imagine how you would walk across a hot parking lot in bare feet. Many of us would likely walk quickly on the forefoot and minimize heel contact.

If you have concerns about your child’s toe walking and he or she is older than three, talk to your doctor. Here are several home treatments for you to try.

Blinky shoes:
Some parents are adverse to these shoes, but the truth is, they seem to work for the younger set. Most types of light-up shoes, or blinky shoes, only light up when the heel is on the ground.This provides excellent motivation and immediate gratification for the average 4-year-old to walk with a heel-toe pattern.Most kids cannot resist the urge to light up their blinky shoes and show friends. But heed this warning before you buy: Not all blinky shoes function this way, so make sure the shoe lights up when the heel contacts the ground.

You can also encourage your child to work with play-dough or other manipulative toys or projects while in the deep squatting position. A coffee tableheight surface is the ideal play area. This will provide an excellent calf and heel cord stretch. This position may be difficult for Mom or Dad to demonstrate and practice, so be careful with your grownup knees. Sit on a low stool instead, and teach the little one how to roll those play-dough snakes.

Slow-motion running:
This is my favorite. There was an old TV show in the seventies called The Six Million Dollar Man. The main character, Steve Austin, was allegedly so fast the TV show could only depict him running in slow motion. You can probably find a video clip of the slo-mo running online. Practice slow-motion running to the car or in the yard. Take a run in slo-mo forward and backward. This technique will help the child learn the heel-toe progression while walking. Remember, in this case, last one to the finish line wins.

Stretching and massage:
You will also need to stretch the heel cords manually and massage those hypersensitive feet.A physical therapist can help you with these two techniques. It is wise to try stretching and massage after bath time or when there is a quiet relaxing time and the child is calm or winding down. Avoid doing this when you are in a rush to go somewhere or when the child is excited about something.

Whatever steps you take to help eliminate toe walking, try to make it fun.Never tease or scold kids for toe walking.The strategies here will give you and your child a few tools to help break the habit.

Matt Wren
Matt Wren, MS, PT, is the manager of PT Works Physical Therapy, a division of Sheltering Arms. He lives in the West End with his wife, Linda, and their two children.
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