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When to Fix Kids' Feet: Don't Wait to Seek Help

Being an advocate for your child can lead to improved outcomes

Identifying the difference between growing pains and injuries can be difficult for a parent. Since children are growing and active, they can easily take a fall or two without skipping a beat. But if something seems more serious than the typical tumble, it is important to pay attention to early signs and symptoms.

Like adults, children can experience foot and ankle pain stemming from various injuries or deformities, including fractures, sprains, heel pain, flat feet, bunions and hammertoes. These injuries or deformities are usually from overuse, improper footwear or are inherited. Frequently, parents may not even realize their child is experiencing foot and ankle pain.

According to Harry Schneider, DPM, FACFAS, a Massachusetts foot and ankle surgeon and Fellow member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, “Children in general do not complain of pain. If you have a young child who wants to be carried or is tripping and falling all the time, that’s when you should consider whether there might be something wrong. Bringing them in to a foot and ankle surgeon can rule out any injuries or deformities.”

Because children are still growing, catching an injury or deformity early on is key to long-term success of treatment. Skeletal maturity (the degree of development of a child’s bone structure) has a huge influence on the type and timing of procedures when treating children with foot and ankle injuries or deformities.

“As foot and ankle surgeons, we prefer to wait until skeletal maturity, which occurs in mid-to-late teens, before surgical measures are taken,” said Michelle Butterworth, DPM, FACFAS, a South Carolina foot and ankle surgeon and Fellow member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, “However, this is sometimes not the case. Different procedures have different timing, so early assessment is key to eliminating pain and preventing recurrence.”

Parents need to understand that surgery is not the immediate fix if their child is experiencing foot and ankle pain. A foot and ankle surgeon will first explore conservative (nonsurgical) treatments to correct any injuries or deformities. Because of this, it is important for parents to understand that simply bringing in their child for an examination is the first step to recovery.

“One thing parents need to know is that coming to see a foot and ankle surgeon doesn’t usually mean surgery,” said Dr. Schneider. “We are experts in evaluating symptoms to help gauge what may happen in the future, based on foot shape and foot type. So the earlier we see children, the earlier we can start them on the proper treatment program and potentially avoid surgery in the future.”