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Toe Walking in Children: When to Be Concerned

Feb 5, 2024 | Pediatrics

Watching your child walk on their toes can be concerning for any parent.

While it’s not uncommon for toddlers to toe walk occasionally, persistent toe walking can indicate an underlying issue that may require attention.

Keep reading to explore what toe walking is, what causes it, and the potential consequences if left untreated.

What is Toe Walking?

Toe walking is a walking pattern where a child primarily walks on their tiptoes, with minimal or no contact between the heel and the ground.

It’s not unusual for young children to experiment with toe walking during their early developmental stages, usually between the ages of 12 to 18 months. However, most children transition to a typical heel-to-toe walking pattern by the age of three.

Causes of Toe Walking in Children

  • Muscle Tightness: One common cause of toe walking is tightness in the calf muscles. When these muscles are too tight, it can make it difficult for a child to fully extend their ankle, forcing them to walk on their toes.
  • Sensory Processing Issues: Some children who toe walk may have sensory processing difficulties. They might find the sensation of walking on their toes more comfortable or pleasurable, leading to a persistent habit.
  • Neurological Conditions: In some cases, toe walking can be associated with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, or muscular dystrophy. These conditions can affect muscle control and coordination.

Consequences of Untreated Toe Walking

Persistent toe walking can have several consequences if left unaddressed:

  • Delayed Motor Development: Toe walking can hinder a child’s development of balance and coordination, potentially leading to delays in motor skills development.
  • Muscle Tightness: Over time, continuous toe walking can lead to increased calf muscle tightness, making it even more challenging for a child to walk with a heel-to-toe gait.
  • Social and Psychological Impact: Children who consistently toe walk may experience social and psychological difficulties as they may be teased or face challenges with peer interactions.

How to Address Toe Walking

It’s crucial to consult with a pediatrician or a pediatric physical therapist if your child consistently toe walks. They can provide a thorough evaluation, identify the underlying cause, and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Early intervention and the consistent practice of stretches, like the ones below, can help your child overcome toe walking and ensure healthy development.

Back-Laying Calf Stretch:
– Have your child lie flat on their back on a comfortable surface
– Gently holding their foot, push their toes towards their face
– Hold this stretch for 10 – 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times per leg

Front-Laying Calf Stretch:
– Have your child lie flat on their stomach on a comfortable surface
– Gently bend their knee and holding their foot, bring their toes towards the floor
– Hold this stretch for 10 – 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times per leg

Does your child need help with toe walking?

If you’re concerned about toe walking and your child’s physical development or have questions about Pediatric Physical Therapy, Buffalo Rehab Group can help.

Our dedicated team is here to provide guidance and support tailored to your child’s unique needs. Contact us today, and let’s ensure a bright and healthy future for your little one!