Most of us are born with trouble-free feet. Yet, alarmingly, three out of every four adults have some kind of foot problem. Most of these ailments have their origins in childhood, but with care and attention, and with regular check-ups, those baby feet need never turn into problem feet. Considering what we expect of our feet throughout our lives, care in the early stages is a sound investment for the future.
A baby's foot is not simply a smaller version of an adult's; it is shorter and wider, and tapers towards the heel. At birth, the twenty six bones are made of cartilage, which, along with ligaments and blood vessels, will eventually make up the adult foot. During this period they are soft and pliable and susceptible to damage. As the foot grows, the cartilage 'ossifies', in other words, changes to bone.
The foot grows in spurts, not at a steady pace, and during the first year, reaches almost half its adult size. It will take until the late teens before it is fully developed.
As the feet of the very young are soft they are easily misshapen. It is very important that they be allowed to develop naturally, without being distorted in any way. to minimise possible risk:
Parents are delighted when their children take their first steps, but it is important not to force children into walking. They will start when they are good and ready (between ten and eighteen months).
Shoes aren't necessary in the early stages. In fact, the less covering the better, while they are safely indoors. Walking barefoot is, after all, the natural way, and allows the foot to develop and strengthen the muscles they will need for getting about. You don't catch colds or chills through your feet so having the feet uncovered is to eb encouraged, though don't let your children walk in dirty areas where there is a risk of injury or infection.
Once walking is established and their heels are in contact with the ground, children are ready for their first shoes. Always ensure that shoes are purchased in a reputable children's shoe shop, where children's feet are measured.
The way a child walks can say a lot about whether there are any problems. Examination by a State Registered Chiropodist should detect any underlying defects which need further treatment. It is not usual to treat children as young as one or two years of age. After seven years the foot has already developed considerably, and is not so easy to correct is there is structural abnormality.
The State Registered Chiropodist will be able to prescribe exercises, if necessary, and corrective appliances which may alter shape and structure, and which will fit easily into shoes.
One of the most common complaints is toeing in or out. Tripping could be the first sign. This can be corrected through exercises, and using devices to encourage the foot back into a normal position. Variations of structure or development may need referral to a paediatrician as these problems frequently have their origins in the hip. Your State Registered Chiropodist will be able to offer appropriate advice.
'Flat Feet' are also a common worry. Most babies appear flat footed but this usually disappears when they begin to stand and walk. If this persists, and produces problems, it is advisable to consult a State Registered Chiropodist who will be able to provide an appropriate support if it is required.
As children grow and their feet continue to develop, it is advisable to check shoe and sock size every few weeks, and make sure they haven't outgrown their shoes. Although the majority of foot problems are caused by injury, deformity, illness or hereditary factors, improper footwear or hosiery can aggravate any problems that already exist. Correctly-fitting shoes, wide enough to allow the toes to move, and with laces or buckles that keep the heels in place help feet develop naturally. Other ways to keep problems at bay are:
If a child does complain, check for areas of pressure or verrucae (warts) - a viral infection common among children. Athlete's foot, a fungal infection on the skin between the toes, is also a common problem. If these problems persist, or for advice about treating them, see a State Registered Chiropodist.
Children have a priority for NHS chiropody, which is given free. All NHS chiropodists are State Registered and have completed a recognised three year course of training. You don't have to be referred by a doctor for treatment. Ask your local clinic or health centre for details of States Registered Chiropodists in your area, or contact:
The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists
53 Welbeck Street
[This is a copy of a leaflet available for free. It is available in
the foyer of Paul
Trickey's clinic, and from the address above.]