Red Flags During Motor Development: Toe Walking
As children are learning to walk, they will explore various ways to walk, including heel and toe walking. Toe walking can be a harmless part of the exploratory nature of the child and is typically seen under the age of 2. But, if toe walking persists past 2-years-old or is the primary form of walking at any age, it can lead to future difficulties and impairments, such as decreased range of motion leading to contractures and possible surgery and should be addressed with your child’s pediatrician. Physical therapy can help to address your child’s toe-walking to increase strength, range of motion, gait pattern, and help prevent future impairments. In the meantime, here are some tips to help your child if he is demonstrating toe walking behaviors:
Cue your child to walk with flat feet any time you see tip-toe walking! Cues such as “heel-toe” or “flat feet” with a visual demonstration for your child are most helpful. Reward systems or stickers can be a great motivator to promote improved walking!
Walking on uneven surfaces such as up hills, on ramps, through grass or sand, and on playground equipment for improved balance. Have your child “freeze” while walking up the hill/ramp to promote a static stretch for 20-30 seconds and make it into a game to help stretch the tight muscles in the back of the legs!
Animal/character walks can be so much fun! Have your child walk backwards, waddle like a duck or penguin, jump like a frog, crawl like a crab or bear! Each walk encourages the child to achieve improved movement at the ankle joint to promote a flat foot position, while having fun!
Let your child walk in your adult-sized shoes or flippers! This helps to encourage a heel-first stepping pattern and flat foot contact when walking. It’s also fun for the child to play and be silly while encouraging improved walking!
Thank you for reading, Red Flags During Motor Development: Toe Walking.
Kimberly Shanahan PT, DPT
Lead Physical Therapist