When children run high fevers or complain of severe stomachaches, parents are quick to call the doctor.
Yet often, if children report having foot pains, their parents do not act with the same sense of urgency, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. In fact, a recent survey by the association showed that only 25 percent of parents have taken their children to a podiatrist to get treatment for foot ailments.
That hesitancy to seek treatment can be a mistake, because podiatrists today offer care for children's foot conditions that can prevent long-term health problems.
For instance, children with flat feet often compensate for the lack of a normal arch by putting more pressure on their ankles. That can lead to pain in the ankles, hips or knees, as muscles in the tendons become overworked. Eventually, tendinitis or arthritis in the joints can develop if this problem is not addressed early in life.
Because flat feet are hereditary, babies predisposed to this condition can be fitted for arch supports before they start walking. In-toeing, or "pigeon toes," is another condition that can benefit from shoes with straight soles to help alleviate the problem.
Sports injuries to the foot should also prompt a visit to the podiatrist, who essentially uses arch supports to "mold" the child's feet in a biomechanical position to prevent the bones in the medial arch (the midfoot curvature) from fusing. These special arch supports hold the foot in a "neutral" position, which allows the bones to align properly and reduces the extra burden on the ankles.
Parents should pay particular attention if their children avoid playing and complain of fatigue or foot pain. While children may not always be able to articulate the specific problem, parents can note whether the foot pains or leg cramps persist, and schedule an appointment with a podiatrist, who can provide orthotics or other special shoe gear to alleviate the problem.
Young babies and children with foot deformities should be screened for neurological problems as well. These deformities may signal a change in the spinal cord or spinal canal, and podiatrists can help evaluate children for these problems or supplement treatment by neurologists.
Podiatrists can also detect early clubfoot deformity and use casting methods to correct the problem. If the problem is addressed at a later age, surgery can be performed to join the foot to the ankle, which involves straightening and re-implanting the bone in a normal configuration.
Parents also need to recognize the importance of seeking podiatric care for their children even for common problems, such as ingrown toenails, because they could lead to serious infection.
Fundamentally, parents need to understand that although the foot appears to be simple, it is actually one of the most complicated parts of the body, consisting of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. By paying attention to foot problems at an early age, parents increase the odds for giving their children something everyone wants: a healthy, mobile life.
Dr. Prasad is a podiatrist with special training in children's foot care. She has hospital privileges at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. To reach Dr. Prasad, call 510-581-1484.