Does my child have flat feet? What are the effects of flat feet in young children? Are there any? These are a few questions parents ponder and often choose to seek medical advice from pediatricians, orthopedists, podiatrists, and physical therapists. Flat foot is a common observation evaluated by medical professions even though it is, in fact, considered to be a variant of normal. The incidence of moderate-to-severe pediatric flat foot is only about 18% of the general population and the prevalence of flexible flat foot reduces with age. The long term effect of flat feet in children across the lifespan is still being researched and debated by medical professionals. This blog will inform you of a few facts about what we do know regarding flat feet in children.
Firstly, flat feet are categorized into two types: flexible and rigid. Whereas flexible flat feet are a normal variant much less likely to develop problems, rigid flat feet typically have some underlying bone or joint problem that may require treatment. As a quick screen to distinguish between flexible and rigid flat feet, you can assess the shape of a child’s arch in various positions. Flexible flat feet have a more visible, distinct arch when the child is sitting or lying down but flatten when they put weight on their feet in standing. Rigid flat feet remain flat whether sitting or standing and do not move as easily from side to side.
Another important fact for one to consider is that infants are born with flat feet! It is normal for children to have flat feet when they are young as their arch height gradually increases until 6 to 7 years of age. Commonly a child’s arch height increases as he or she grows, gains strength, and becomes skeletally mature. Research does suggest overweight children are more prone to have flat feet. Flexible flat feet may tend to be more prevalent in boys versus girls and in various ethnic backgrounds.
The majority of children with flexible flat feet are pain-free and no treatment is needed. Therefore, if your child is asymptomatic there should be no reason to worry. If your child develops other symptoms such as pain, muscle tightness, muscle weakness, or trouble keeping up with peers in performing age-appropriate activities, you may want to consider consulting your pediatrician, pediatric orthopedic doctor, or physical therapist for a full skeletal and developmental evaluation to rule out other potential causes and treatment recommendations.
Siobhan Clarke is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and an Advanced Clinician at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion at Hospital for Special Surgery. She is currently conducting a study on flat feet in children at the Leon Root Motion Analysis Laboratory.
Dr. David M. Scher specializes in pediatric orthopedic surgery at Hospital for Special Surgery, with special interests in children’s foot deformities including clubfoot, cerebral palsy, fractures in children and pediatric hip disorders. He serves as co-medical director of the Leon Root Motion Analysis Laboratory, where advanced technologies are used for both research and clinical decision making to improve how children walk.