Are you worried about seeing your child's toes point inward as they stand or walk? Whether you should be depends upon the cause of toe in postioning as well as the age of your child.
Pigeon toe or toe in walking is a common and often painless condition for children. Very often, it occurs in one or both feet in children under the age of 2. The condition usually corrects itself with no intervention. This type of pigeon toe often develops in the womb or is due to genetic birth defects, so little can be done to prevent it. Contrary to popular belief, there are no known shoes or orthotics that help prevent pigeon toe and no evidence to suggest that learning to walk in bare feet has any effect on the condition.
The Causes of Pigeon Toe
Pigeon toe may develop in the womb and often corrects itself.
There are three potential causes of pigeon toe:
1. Metatarsus varus or metatarsus adductus
With metatarsus varus or metatarsus adductus, the front of the foot is angled inward giving the foot a curved, half-moon appearance. This type of pigeon toe is common in babies who were breech in utero or whose mothers had less amniotic fluid. Occasionally, there is a family history of the condition.
Normally, the foot is abled to be straightened out by a doctor or healthcare professional once the child is born with no further treatment generally being required. Although its not imperative, a parent can also gently stretch the baby's feet a few times a day to help correct the shape.
2. Internal tibial torsion
Internal tibial torsion refers to the inward twisting of the shin bone or the tibia. This twisting of the shin bone often becomes noticeable as a child first begins to walk. It is generally not painful, but parents of children with internal tibial torsion tend to report that their child falls frequently. Like metatarsus adductus, the condition often resolves without the need for therapy, bracing or casting.
Sometimes however, in more severe cases and / or the shin does not straighten out by the time a child reaches 9 or 10 years of age, internal tibial torsion may require surgery to fix it. The procedure involves cutting through the twisted bone and reattaching it to make the foot straighter.
3. Femoral anteversion
This type of toe in positioning is very common affecting up 10 percent of children. Here, the thigh bone (femur) is excessively rotated inward in the hip joint. It is thought that this may be due to stress to the hips before birth. Normally this type of in-toeing resolves by the age of 8 years. If it continues after this age, an examination by a physiotherapist, doctor or other paedicatric health care professional is recommended to assess what might be the best course of action to correct the toe in positioning. Occasionally the neck of the thigh bone is angled in such a way as to increase the turning inward of the leg. At other times, this type of toe in standing and walking may be purely a habit that can be corrected with making the child aware of the fact that their feet are turned inward.
When to see a physiotherapist or doctor
Generally there is no urgent need to see a physiotherapist or doctor. However, if the toe in position is still apparent by the time your child reaches 8 years, or if it causes your child to fall more often than normal, a physiotherapist or doctor should be consulted.
Diagnosis for pigeon toe can often be determined by a comprehensive physical examination. Occasionally, X-rays and other imaging may be necessary.
For metatarsus varus or metatarsus adductus, diagnosis is generally made very early, often during the newborn's post-birth examination. A skilled physical examination will identify that the positioning of the foot bones are cause whilst ruling out out other possible causes such as mal-alignment of the hip joints.
Internal tibial torsion generally apprears only as a child begins to walk and so the earliest diagnosis may be slightly before 1 year of age during a physical examination of the infant's legs. If diagnosed, the physiotherapist or doctor will take measurements of the legs.
Femoral anteversion is most often diagnosed when the child is between the ages of 4-6 years. This will normally start with a physical examination and a review of the medical history of the child and family.
Treating pigeon toe
Toe in positioning may be treated with time, normal growth and reassurance. If more therapy intervention is required treatment may include:
- Braces for the legs that slowly correct the position of the bones or feet
- Molds that correct the shape of the foot
- Specialized therapy that involves specific stretches and targeted activities that encourage the correct positioning of the feet during standing and walking. These activities often involve strengthening of the outside muscles of the hip and improving balance so as optimise walking and running.
- Finally surgery may be recommended as a last resort to correct the positioning of the bones that cause pigeon toe.
To fix these issues does require a comprehensive, co-ordinated approach. It is essential to assess whether there are any structural limitations or deficits preventing these children from walking correctly. Do they have an arched or flat back? Are their hips stiff? Are they knock kneed or bow legged? Do they have flat or highly arched feet?
Already these children's bodies have begun to adapt to this way of walking. This means that they are likely to have poor core stability, their outside hip muscles are likely to be stretched and weak, whilst their hamstrings and the muscles on the inside and outside of their thighs are likely to be tight and dominant. Their ankle joints are also likely to be stiff, their calf muscles tight and their foot muscles and plantar fascia weak and overstretched.
These children are also likely to have poor balance which requires that they walk with their feet wide apart making ambulation inefficient and tiring.
Correcting these kids walking pattern is easier said than done. Ultimately, it means loosening stiff joints, strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight soft tissues. It often requires balance retraining and learning to walk with feet less wide apart and a correct heel - toe contact. Taping, bracing and orthotics may all be useful in assisting and accelerating the rate of improvement.
Whilst all these interventions and techniques may sound over-whelming, they can be integrated into a concise, targeted program that usually delivers results within four weeks. It is worth it. Incorrect walking can cause a multitude of problems over your child's life culminating in multiple joint replacements.
It can cause children to be less active, less engaged and less connected. It can lead to a decrease in sports achievements. However, most devastatingly it can take away opportunities and limit your child's potential.
If you do have any concerns regarding your child's posture or movement including the way that they walk, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994) for a free examination and advice. It may save them a life time of physical and social problems.