What is toe walking? Toe walking in kids is when they either drastically walk on their tip toes or they don’t hit the ground with their heel first. Walking is broken up into two phases, swing phase (when your foot is off the ground) and stance phase (when your foot is on the ground). Toe walking would be noticed in stance phase because when their foot should be flat on the ground, it isn’t!
Walking develops with the child and when they first start walking they hit the floor with their foot flat and don’t rely on their calves and ankles much for walking. As they develop a more mature gait (usually between 3-5) they hit the floor with their heel first and travel over their foot until they push off with their toes. With toe walking the child will either hit the floor with their toes first or the ball of their foot and almost ‘bounce’ onto their toes. With some kids this is only noticed when they are running and may not be as apparent when they are walking.
Some toe walking is caused by cerebral palsy as a result of the shortening of the calf muscles. This can be corrected by bracing and/or stretching along with other exercises. Some kids just walk on their toes for no reason and this is called idiopathic toe walking.
I have found that for the kids that are idiopathic toe walkers they generally outgrow it however some of them don’t. The biggest concerns I see are that they can develop tightness in their calves (although maybe it was the tightness that was there first). They also have weaker calves. We use our calf muscles to keep us from falling as we move our body over our foot while walking. If our calves are weak and our body doesn’t think it can effectively keep us upright its reaction, in some cases, is to pop up onto our toes. This isn’t something we think about, it just happens. Also, you may notice some clumsiness in your child’s running and jumping because they are losing the benefit of the push off that they would get from hitting with their heel, then crossing over their flat foot and then using their calf muscle to push off with their toes to propel them forward. If they are already on their toes they have no momentum to gain. It would be like trying to get a spring to go that never got compressed.
So, I hope you hear me that idiopathic toe walking is not a big problem unless they are having trouble with clumsiness or running or jumping or other activities that kids like to do!