Toe Walking FAQ: Everything Parents Need to Know

Baby boy taking first stepsA child’s first steps are a major developmental milestone, and parents are usually overjoyed to watch their sons and daughters learn to walk and further explore the world around them. Sometimes, however, children develop a habit known as “toe walking,” which can be (but isn’t always) a cause for concern.

If you’re a parent who’s worried that your child might have an issue with toe walking, here are the answers to some questions that you might have.

1. What is toe walking? Toe walking describes a way of walking on the balls of the feet without the heels touching the ground, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It’s actually common for kids who are just learning to walk to display this habit, and most of them outgrow it after the age of 2 and adopt a heel-ball-toe pattern.

2. What causes toe walking? Toe walking is often a temporary habit that kids grow out of and has no underlying cause. However, sometimes it can be a sign of a medical condition or issue, such as the following, according to the Mayo Clinic:

Cerebral palsy: In this case, the toe walking is indicative of a disorder that affects movement, posture, and/or muscle tone, resulting from injury or developmental issues with the regions of the brain that control the muscles.

Autism: In some cases, toe walking can be a sign of autism spectrum disorder.

Muscular dystrophy: People with this medical condition are prone to muscle fiber damage and weakness over time. Children with muscular dystrophy sometimes display toe walking.

Short Achilles tendon: A child whose Achilles tendon is too short might toe walk because their condition keeps their heels from reaching the ground.

3. Should I be worried? Not necessarily. A doctor can determine whether or not your child’s toe walking is indicative of an underlying medical condition or not. Once again, toe walking is often just a habit or a phase kids go through while they’re learning to walk. In those cases, no treatment is needed, although their pediatrician might want to keep an eye on it, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Your doctor might perform a gait analysis or a procedure called an electromyography (EMG), which involves measuring the electrical activity in the leg muscles. If the analysis and/or EMG suggests there’s an underlying condition causing the toe walking, the doctor might also recommend testing for developmental delays and/or a neurological examination.

4. How is toe walking treated? If the toe walking stems from a medical condition such as autism or cerebral palsy, the treatment will focus on that issue. If the problem is a short Achilles tendon, the child might need surgery, according to WebMD. Ultimately, if you’re worried about your child toe walking, you should mention your concerns to a medical professional.

At Little Steps, our pediatric therapists provide comprehensive, compassionate treatment for children of all ages. One of our team members also recently attended a continuing education course focused on therapeutic evaluation and treatment of toe walking. If you’d like more information about toe walking and/or our pediatric therapy services, please call 847-707-6744 or email info@littlestepspt.com.           

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