As children learn to navigate walking, they may initially learn to walk on their toes while cruising along furniture. Toe walking is developmentally appropriate until the age of three. If your child persistently walks on their toes in the absence of any underlying neuromuscular or orthopedic condition, it is considered idiopathic toe walking.
Idiopathic toe walking is defined as habitual toe walking with no known cause. Idiopathic toe walking may lead to tightened calf muscles, decreased range of motion of ankles, and eventually, shortened Achilles tendon.
What is the treatment for toe walking?
- Treatment options vary on the degree and duration of toe walking. It also depends on the flexibility of the Achilles tendon. As with any habit, the longer it persists, the harder it is to break. In extreme instances, surgery to lengthen the Achilles tendon may be most appropriate. For most cases, ankle foot orthosis (AFO) and/or physical therapy are recommended. AFOs are removable braces worn during day and night to help maintain the foot at 90-degree angle.
- Physical therapy creates a program designed for your child’s needs by incorporating a combination of stretches and strengthening. In order to increase the effectiveness of physical therapy, daily home exercises are crucial. Below are a list of at-home stretches and activities you can incorporate into your weekly routine.
- Manual calf stretch: This stretch requires help from an adult. Your child will sit on the floor with his/her knees straight. The adult will cuff the child’s heel with their hand as the foot rests on the adult’s forearm. Slowly apply pressure on the child’s foot so their foot points up and towards the child’s body. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
- Wall stretch: The child is standing for this stretch. They should place their hands on a wall and point both feet at the wall one behind the other. Lean into the wall as the front leg is bent and the back leg is straight. Hold both feet on the ground flat for 30 seconds.
Activities to strengthen muscles:
- Sit to stand: While your child sits on a chair or bench, place your hands below their knees with moderate pressure downward to provide tactile cues to keep heels on the floor. With the steady pressure, your child will stand up with heels remaining on the ground. Complete 5 repetitions.
- Basketball stretch: Encourage your child to sit on a small ball such as basketball while keeping both heels on the ground. Practice squatting by standing and sitting back down on the ball while keep heels down.
- Bear walks: Animal walking is great for stretching and strengthening leg muscles. For a bear walk, place hands and feet on the floor while hips aim towards the air. As one foot moves towards the hands, the other leg stays back while actively pushing the heel to ground.
- Penguin walk: Pretend to walk like a penguin by keeping the toes in the air and walking only on the heels!
- Crab walk: Start in the bridge position and propel forward by using hands and feet. Keep feet flat on the floor!
- Bozo Buckets: Line up three buckets in a row to play bozo buckets. Instead of throwing the beanbags into the buckets, place the beanbag on top of the feet and fling the bean bag by kicking.
- Scooter races: Race a friend or sibling on the driveway! Sit on the scooter with feet in front and use the heels to propel forward.
- Slide: With parent supervision, have your child climb up the slide. Climbing up a playground slide targets range of motion, strength and weight bearing.
LUMIERE THERAPY TEAM🖐️
Beazley, Elizabeth, et al. “Activities for Children Who Walk on Their Toes.” University of Rochester Medical Center, www.urmc.rochester.edu/MediaLibraries/URMCMedia/childrens-hospital/developmental-disabilities/ndbp-site/documents/toe-walking-guide.pdf.
SickKids hospital staff. “Toe Walking, Idiopathic .” AboutKidsHealth, 11 Apr. 2011, www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=946.
“Toe Walking in Children.” DINOSAUR PHYSICAL THERAPY, 5 May 2018, blog.dinopt.com/toe-walking/.
“Toe Walking in Children.” Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute, 8 Oct. 2015, mmidocs.com/media/blog/2015/10/idiopathic-toe-walking/46.