My six-year-old son has been a toe walker since he began to walk at the normal age after one. He is in full health and full of energy as all young boys with a very creative mind. Being a toe walker means that whether he is running, walking or even just standing still this is done all on the balls of his feet, like a ballerina. And although he is able to put his heels down when told, it takes a few seconds and he is back up there!
Through my own research of Toe Walking over the past five years we have discovered that this is habitual toe walking and is referred to as Idiopathic Toe Walking, which means the child does not suffer from any learning difficulties, as some cases of Toe Walking can be related to Autism and Cerebral Palsy because of the nervous system, therefore sensitivity in their feet.
Idiopathic Toe Walking and Genetics
My husband was a Toe Walker when he was a young boy and now my youngest son who is two and a half years old started walking on his toes also at the age of one. Although with footplates and good supportive shoes we are trying to prevent this from getting to the point of my six-year-old son, when it is harder to break the habit. My husband did not have any treatment and did grow out of it, although he is very tall and slim and does suffer some lower back pain and his walking pattern does have a slight bounce in it, which is from the toe walking when young. Idiopathic Toe Walking is more common in boys and in about 34% of children who Toe Walk, it is genetic. So this has bought some comfort that my husband did grow out of Toe Walking, but we do not know at what age he stopped and whether our son will follow that same path.
What to do?
Myself a mother being more into natural healing for my family and always using chemical free products on my children, I was reluctant to see doctors to fix the problem, thinking it will sort itself out. A lovely massage woman told me once, that he might not feel grounded within himself, so I used the aid of crystals and massage to relax his muscles. For the past six months I have been using a homeopathic medicine that will be more of a slow healing process, hence I have not seen a result yet.
With my son starting school this year I started to get more concerned about the long-term effects of Toe Walking and did seek further medical advice. We did end up seeing a physiotherapist at the hospital who recommended Serial Casting. Serial Casting is a method where both legs are bandaged from the foot to below the knee keeping the heel down using soft casts (not as hard as plaster cast). This stays on for two to three week blocks depending on how effective the treatment is going through the process. Although my beautiful free spirited boy was ok with all this and didnt let it stop him from going to school and doing all the normal things he does, it was still a little awkward and he did get some pain from the stretching. I was ok with this and we did get a slight result of his calves stretching down, but what I was concerned about was the hospitals push for botox injections. They were more after the quick and easy solution, and to me I did not think it was necessary.
The Serial Casting has helped my sons legs stretch to put his heels down easier, but he does walk in a more awkward way and because the muscles do get weakened from the Serial Casting, after a day at school his legs are very tired and his body seems unco-coordinated. When the casting is removed he is able to wear his normal everyday boot shoe that holds specially made plates to keep his heel down and prevent him from walking on his toes. There are also exercises to stretch the muscles, which are slightly effective.
There are also other alternative treatments available such as Myotherapy and acupressure. It is often a matter of doing your own research and deciding what works best for your family. I am determined to keep going with my own at home treatments – massage, crystals for grounding and the homeopathic medicine.