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The Truth About Flat Feet in Children—What Parents Need to Know

Most parents cannot help but worry when they find something that appears to be unusual or abnormal in their children. If they notice that their baby’s feet seem to have characteristics of flatness, or fallen arches, parents may be concerned that their child will grow up with flat feet. In reality, are flat feet in children a serious condition or not? And most importantly, will this condition affect the child’s quality of life in the future?

What are Flat Feet in Children and What Do They Look Like?

Flat feet is a condition where the child’s feet have little or no arch. Put simply, most people have an upward curve in the middle of the underfoot; this is called an arch. Try getting your feet wet and standing on a flat surface where your footprint will show. Step away and you should see a curved or indented portion in the middle of the footprint. For someone with flat feet, it will be the opposite; they will have no indented portion but rather will see the complete imprint of the bottom of their feet on the floor surface. This is because the arches on the inside of the feet are flattened, allowing the entire soles of the feet to touch the floor when they stand. For most children, they will experience what is called flexible flat foot. That is, when the child stands, the arch of the foot disappears. However, when the child is on tiptoes, the arch reappears and looks normal. Another form of flat foot is rigid flat foot, which is a disorder that is quite rarely found and can be diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon. Parents are usually able to recognize flat feet in their child when he or she starts to walk, at approximately one-year old, or so.

Why Does Flatfoot Occur in Children and How Many Types of Flat Foot Are There?

There are three main causes or variations of flat foot as listed below:

  • A natural condition that is present from birth.
  • Flexible flatfoot, or fallen arches, which is the type most commonly found in children.
  • Rigid flat foot, which is caused by abnormal foot development and can be due to health conditions, such as the brain disorder known as cerebral palsy. It can also be related to disorders of the spinal cord or of the foot structure and bones in the feet.

Usually, however, only the first two types or causes are found in children; the third is very rarely found.

Is FlatFoot in Children a Very Serious Condition or Not?

For most children, flat feet are a natural part of their development and are not a serious condition or disorder that should cause a great deal of anxiety for parents. In reality, almost all children are naturally born with flat feet, but as the child grows, they develop according to their age and their bodies gradually change. They eventually outgrow their flat feet and develop arches as part of their natural development. How much of an arch they develop, however, is dependent on each individual child. For some children, one or both parents may have some of the characteristics of flat foot and so, just like other facial or body features, the child will change and develop in similar ways to their parents. For the most part, therefore, flat foot in younger children is not a condition that parents should worry about too much.

Does Flatfoot in Children Require Treatment?

In cases where the child is diagnosed with Rigid Flat Foot, which is due to abnormalities of the foot structure, more serious treatment is usually required and, in most cases, this would involve surgery in order to correct the deformity. If, however, the child has Flexible Flat Foot, the parents should not be too worried, as there is no current medical research or reports stating that flexible flatfoot in children will cause problems for their development in the future. Normal care of your child, without much anxiety on this particular issue is sufficient, as this is a natural condition of babies and young children. As they grow, these things will naturally improve on their own. For some children, if the condition is very severe, it is possible you may need to have special shoes made to help them. However, if you feel very uneasy or concerned about it, you can seek the advice and consultation of a doctor, considering it as part of your baby’s health checkup, providing peace of mind for you as parents.

We hope this article has been helpful for our readers in discovering and understanding the truth about what may have been previously troubling questions or fears about flatfoot in children. As we have reiterated, flat feet is not a clear disorder or too worrisome of a health condition. Again, in most cases, it is simply a natural part of a young child’s development and it will gradually change and improve as the child grows. Therefore, for any parents who are or have been concerned about this issue, you can now put your mind more at ease.

Photo Credit: donnierayjones Flickr via Compfight cc

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Associate Professor Chatupon Chotigavanichaya, M.D. Summary: Orthopedics Family Medicine