We’ve all seen our kids come up on to their toes when walking – whether it be excitement, running or jumping for joy. But, how do you know if it is becoming a bad habit or doing them harm? When you notice your child walking during normal gait up on their toes, then they might be what we call a toe walker, that is, they have formed a habit of walking on their toes without there being a known cause. A study of children aged 5 years old showed that almost 5 percent are, or were previously toe walkers. Approximately 2 percent grew out of it without intervention, while the remaining percentage continued to walk on their toes.
So how do you know if your child will grow out of it or if there is something more sinister underlying? Firstly, ask yourself – how often is my child toe walking? Is it 100 percent of the time, or perhaps only 50 percent of the time? Then ask yourself – do they respond to prompting to walk with their heels down? Perhaps your child may not be able to walk with their heels down – in that case there could be tightness in their calf muscles preventing a normal gait.
If you notice your child responding to prompts and you observe the amount of time spent up on their toes decreasing, then there is a possibility that your child will naturally grow out of it. Fantastic! However, if the time spent up on their toes is not improving over several months, then there is a chance there is tightness in the calf muscle which is restricting their ability to walk normally, or something else underlying. This is where a paediatric physiotherapist assessment is necessary to determine the cause of toe walking as well as provide strategies to overcome and break the habit. It is better to fix the problem when it is relatively new, rather than wait years for a bad habit to develop!
Source: Idiopathic Toe-Walking: Prevalence and Natural History from Birth to Ten Years of Age https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29664850