While footcare is important during all stages of life it is especially important for children. Good foot health during childhood can prevent a myriad of complications and deformities later in life.
Babies feet don’t have bones instead they are made up of soft cartilage. This cartilage can be deformed by footwear, clothing and even socks which are too tight. It is important that socks and babygrows have room for baby’s toes to move. Socks and baby gro’s should not be tumble dried as this can cause them to shrink, pulling on their feet and causing pressure on their nails.
It is a common misconception that baby walkers and bouncers aid walking development. The opposite is actually true and they are not recommended by either podiatrists or the HSE. These devices have contributed to several serious injuries. It has been found that on average children who use these devices walk a month later than those that do not. They keep the baby in an unnatural position with their legs bowed. This can put pressure on their hips, pelvis and spine and can also affect how they walk when they start to learn to.
Babies usually take their first steps around the age of 9-18 months. Before this time there is no need for babies to wear shoes. While they may look nice they increase the risk of the delicate cartilage in the feet being damaged. If your child has not taken their first steps by 18 months it is important to speak to your GP, public health nurse or podiatrist.
It is important that your child is fitted for their shoes by a trained shoe fitter. The shoes should have adequate room to allow the foot to grow unimpeded and here are some additional tips:
- the shoe should have a soft flexible upper to prevent damage
- a shoe with a good secure retaining medium such as laces, strap or velcro to keep it firmly attached to the foot
- a flexible lightweight sole to aid walking development
- available in different width fittings
- available in full and half sizes
When cutting your child’s nails, it is important to cut them straight across and not to cut down the side of the nail. If you notice any redness or swelling it is best to see a podiatrist straight away. Ingrowing toenails are normally caused by the incorrect cutting of the nail or poorly fitting shoes or socks. If caught early enough in children the nail can sometimes be trained to grow straight again without the use of surgery.
Feet should be washed daily with soap and water and thoroughly dried, especially between the toes. Check your child’s feet regularly for any signs of redness or blistering that may be caused from shoes. If you notice any cuts or blisters, cover with a dry sterile dressing. If the area has not healed in 3 days, get it checked by a podiatrist. If you notice any rashes or raised bumps or if you child complains of itchy feet, get it checked as it may be a fungal infection which can easily be treated.
Most children love swimming and it is a great exercise for maintaining overall health. There is, however, a risk of catching a common virus known as verruca from the floors of communal changing rooms. To minimise this risk it is best to wear rubber-soled swim socks or shoes. Try to avoid direct contact between the skin and the ground and avoid sharing towels, shoes and socks. Generally, Verrucae tend to go away of their own accord after several months. However, if your child is complaining that the area is becoming sore or if you notice that it is starting to spread to other parts of the foot, then treatment may be required and it is best to get it examined by a podiatrist.
Signs that your child may have a foot problem
- Complaining of pain. Pain in a child’s foot is never normal. There is no such thing as “growing pains”. If a child complains of pain for more than a few days or if that pain is limiting your child’s walking, it should be checked by a podiatrist.
- Frequent tripping and falling. Once walking has been mastered by your child, repeated trips or falls may be a sign of an issue with their gait (walking), balance problems or neuromuscular conditions and should be assessed.
- Withdrawing from activities they usually enjoy. If a normally active child suddenly withdraws from activities because of pain, this should be investigated. If the child is between the ages 8-14 years, this is particularly important because they may have developed an inflammatory condition of the growth plate in their heel known as Sever’s disease.
How can a podiatrist help?
A podiatrist will perform a detailed examination of your child’s feet.
- They will check for any signs of ingrowing toenails and any abnormal growth of skin which may indicate either the presence of a verruca or abnormal loading of the foot when the child is walking.
- The podiatrist will also examine your child’s footwear to see if there are any abnormal wear patterns which may indicate that your child is not walking correctly.
- The podiatrist will check the joints in the feet to see that they are moving correctly and that there is not increased movement which can be contributed to a condition known as hypermobility syndrome.
- The podiatrist will look at the child standing and walking. The whole child will be looked at not just the foot. It is important to see that as the child walks they are adopting the correct posture for their age and that the body is moving through each step in an effective manner from their head to their toes. If the podiatrist notices any abnormalities they can: prescribe exercises to strengthen muscles; orthotics to support and stabilise the foot or a combination of both.
Diabetes Ireland runs 2 Care Centres, Cork and Dublin. In each centre, we have 2 experienced podiatrists who work with children’s feet. To book an appointment telephone Cork 021 427 4229 or Dublin 01 842 6273.
Cork Care Centre, a 1-minute walk from South Wall – Enterprise House, 36 Mary Street, Cork
Dublin Care Centre – 19 Northwood House, Northwood Business Campus, Santry, Dublin 9.