Plenty of outdoor play can help prevent floating toes in kids

 Back when I was growing up, you didn’t hear too much about floating toes. Unfortunately, it’s become a fairly common foot problem for 21st century kids. But that doesn't mean we just have to grin and bare it...or does it? Stick with me and you'll get the joke. Plus, you'll learn why kids toes stock touching the ground. And get some tips to help prevent floating toes from becoming a problem for your little ones. 

What are floating toes?

 Put simply, they are just what they seem. I'll diagnose a floating toe if one or more remains elevated and cannot touch the ground, even when your child places his or her foot flat on an even surface. With this condition, your weight also won't transfer to the toes when you walk.

In grown-ups, I may diagnose a floating toe after hammertoe surgery or bunion surgery. It's also really common after a Weil osteotomy. (That's a procedure for ball of foot pain. It involves making a cut in one of your metatarsal bones to loosen up tight extensor tendons.) Yet, with children, this condition develops for different reasons. In fact, with kids, we think the problem results from instability or weakness in the toe joints and muscles. And that appears to be a rising problem. 

Why More Kids Get Floating Toes Today

A recent study in Japan revealed that rates of the problem have soared in the 2000s as compared to the 1980s. Of the 198 kids included in the 2021 study, about 80% had at least one floating toe! 

The suspected culprit? Underused feet! Put simply, kids aren't using their feet enough these days. And we can link that to an increase in indoor games and screen time, combined with less playground time at school. (Not to mention a global pandemic that kept kids home for up to two years. And cancelled all youth sports activities.)

Now, that adds up to kids who are more sedentary. In turn, this downtime has translated to kids who take just 11,000 steps a day compared to 27,000 steps back in 1979. But that's just one piece of the puzzle, I'm sorry to say. Because mistake we make early on also weaken kids feet. 

What am I talking about? First, we cover kids’ feet far more frequently these days, leaving them little time for barefoot exploring. Parents even buy expensive sneakers for babies who can't walk. Super cute, I know, but it means those kiddos aren't developing their foot strength. So these and other factors have led to less developed foot muscles and more floating toes! And that adds up to trouble in several areas.

Symptoms Cause by Toes that Don't Touch the Ground

 Children with floating toes tend to have more balance issues and are at a higher risk of falling over. Kids whose toes don't touch the ground often complain about foot pain. Plus, they have a higher risk for future foot problems, as well as changes to their posture. 

And that's not all. If your toes float, your stride length and walking speed could suffer, too. Now, that's why we need to prevent or treat kids floating toes. 

Preventing Floating Toes in Children floating toes in kids

Here's my deal as a kid's podiatrist. I like to prevent problems before they start. For that reason, I suggest letting infants go barefoot until they walk.  This helps develop and strengthen toe and foot muscles to prevent floating toes. (If you worry about warts or germs from going barefoot, grippy socks can protect feet while allowing muscle development.) 

 Preventative measures are also key for older children. Once shoes become a daily need, you can keep their feet by managing screen time. Remember, even older children, tweens and teens need plenty of time to run around and play! By doing so, you can help prevent floating toes. Plus, you can help combat childhood obesity. And that's just as important, since extra weight also hurts our kids feet a lot. 

Floating Toe Treatment in Houston TX 

I know by now that I've scared you into staring at your kids' toes for hours. But here's the good news, even if you see a child's toe doesn't touch the ground. Almost always, we can correct this problem without surgery. And here's how we'll do it. 

First, we'll try strengthening exercises that focuses on the tiny muscles in your toes and feet. (You can try them at home with your kids. Or, if you need more support, physical therapy may make a difference.) 

At the same time, we'll look at your child's shoe choice. I may switch them to roomier shoes that leave those toes some wiggle room. Then, I may suggest custom orthotics to give their feet more support while we build up foot muscle strength. In combination, these measures can go a long way toward returning the toe to its normal structure. That way, your little one can avoid complications, both now and in the future. 

Have concerns about floating toes or other kids foot health problems? Don't wait for your child to outgrow foot pain or other concerns. I’m here to help right now! So, what should you do at the first sign of trouble?  Schedule an appointment with Houston pediatric podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider today. We can start working on your child's floating toe treatment right away. And we can address any other concerns that stand in the way of their walking, running and playing comfortably! 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.