Flat feet, or pes planus, occurs when the arch of the foot is not fully developed. We see this presentation for a variety of reasons. Flat feet can stem from increased or decreased muscle tone or foot and ankle weakness. What can you do for a child with flat feet? Typically, the foot position and alignment in children doesn’t stabilize until around 7-8 years of age, so until then we can utilize targeted flat feet exercises to elicit great results in building up arches and foot/ankle stability in children.
Below are a few ways to combat flat feet, when caused by decreased muscle tone or muscle weakness. On top of trying some of these safe and effective flat feet exercises at home, it is also recommended that you check in with your toddler or child’s PT for a better understanding of why their arch hasn’t fully developed and to get a full evaluation to get started on a tailored treatment plan!
Challenging your child’s balance is a great way to elicit the use of the small muscles within the foot as well as muscles around the ankle to build up stability and work on development of the arch of the foot. If standing on one foot is too challenging, try placing the opposite foot on a ball, or try standing with one foot directly in front of the other for easier variations. If standing on one foot is too easy, grab a pillow and have them balance on that for a more dynamic surface. Still need more of a challenge? Practice throwing and catching, reaching for bubbles or spelling out the ABC’s in the air with the opposite foot.
Have your child practice picking up marbles or small objects with their feet/toes! This exercise will focus on activation of all the smaller muscles within the foot called the intrinsic muscles. Begin this exercise in a sitting position. Then, once your kiddo has mastered that, have them try it standing up to encourage single leg balance on the opposite leg.
Grab a half foam roll if you have one. If not, you can use the edge of a curb, tree roots outside, or a small rolled up towel! Have your child stand so their heels and toes are hanging off the edge of the surface and practice maintaining balance there. If that is too easy, work on some stepping side to side on the surface for an added challenge. During this activity you will see your child’s ankles wobble and toes curl/uncurl to maintain the balance. This is all building up strength in the foot to contribute to arch formation.
It is typical for newer walkers or unsteady walkers to have flat feet, as they have not utilized the muscles within the feet to develop an arch. A good way to kickstart arch development is by walking over uneven surfaces. This could mean having your new walker practice on sand, grass, mulch, or other varied surfaces outside. You could also create challenging surfaces inside, at home. Hide some beanie babies underneath a yoga mat or toss a line of pillows and cushions on the floor to practice walking over!
Karleigh enjoys play based pediatric therapy as it gives her the opportunity to create both a positive and exciting experience for children. Karleigh works at NAPA Denver and likes to ‘jump’ from patient to patient.