Children are on their feet for a long time each day, and sometimes it seems that they never run out of energy. But as much fun as all of that running around can be for them, there are also a lot of ways that their feet can start hurting. Below, we will discuss the causes of foot pain, the roots of those problems, and what you can do to treat them.
An ingrown toenail occurs when a toenail grows into the flesh on the toe. It is most common in the big toe. Ingrown toenails are often the consequence of wearing too-tight shoes, which may crowd the toes and force toenails into the toe. Placing pressure on a toe with an ingrown nail can be painful. The area can also turn red, swell, and become infected.
You can reduce the risk of ingrown toenails by wearing shoes that give your toes room, as well as by clipping your toenails regularly and adequately. Toenails should be clipped straight across and not too short.
A common home remedy for ingrown toenails is to use Epsom salts. Mix the salts into warm water and soak your feet for 15 minutes at least twice a day. This can help fight infections. However, it does not remove the nail from the skin or stop the nail from ingrowing further. Do not attempt to remove an ingrown toenail at home – instead, visit a doctor, where the procedure can be performed safely.
Flat feet, formally known as pes planus, are a condition in which the foot’s arch does not develop properly. All babies are flat-footed at birth. The condition usually resolves itself over time. By age three, about 50% of children are affected. Children should ideally outgrow flat-footedness and develop an arch by about age six, but 20 to 25% do not. Additionally, lifestyle factors can flatten arches over time, such as wearing shoes without proper arch support. Obesity can also cause flat feet as a result of the feet having to support the extra weight.
Most cases of flat feet are considered flexible. The foot will appear flat in the loaded position (standing up), but the arch will appear in the unloaded position (the foot is elevated and not carrying weight). Most cases of flexible flat feet require no action because there is little to no pain or restriction of movement. Flexible flat feet are more common in boys than in girls.
However, some flat feet are considered rigid. Rigid flat foot is a condition where there is no arch, even in the unloaded position. It is the result of a congenital disability that causes bones in the foot to be misaligned. Pain may be felt in the heel or the arch and will usually worsen after physical activity. Surgery will be needed to align the joints properly.
Many cases fall on a spectrum somewhere between two extremes. The good news is that if your feet are partially flat, you can prevent further arch collapse by wearing shoes with proper arch support. If your shoes are not adequately supported, you can buy generic insoles from convenience stores or have custom-made orthotics prescribed by a podiatrist.
Bunions, or hallux valgus, are bony bumps that form on foot at the base of the big toe. They occur when the toes are compressed; the big toe is forced to curve toward the other toes and sticks improperly out of its joint. Bunions often swell and turn red. They are also painful and debilitate the movement of the toe. Bunions are more common in adults, but they can sometimes occur in children too.
Complications of bunions
If bunions go unaddressed, a variety of further problems can arise.
- Bursitis – A condition in which the expansion of toe joints from bunions causes the swelling of the bursas, which are fluid-filled sacs in our joints meant to cushion them. This may also cause damage to cartilage, resulting in arthritis.
- Metatarsalgia – A condition in which misalignments cause damage to the ball of the foot, which is where the toes join the rest of the foot. It can be aggravated by intensive physical activity such as running and jumping.
- Hammertoe – A condition in which muscles and tendons are pushed out of position, causing a bend in the middle joint of a toe.
Lifestyle decisions can significantly reduce the risk of bunions. If bunions do develop, several home remedies can help manage the pain; however, not all of these treatment options address the underlying causes of bunions.
- Wear shoes that give the toes space; if the toes are crowded, the pressure can result in joints misaligning.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Bunion pads are available that cushion the area near the bunion, protecting it from further stress. Ask your doctor before using pads, as they can cause even more pain if it’s too tight.
- Applying ice can help with inflammation. However, be sure to never apply ice directly to the skin, but instead, use an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Don’t leave the ice there for too long, as this can cause an ice burn. Do not use ice to treat bunions if you have nerve damage or circulatory problems.
- Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter painkillers help regulate inflammation, which can fight to swell and thin your blood to reduce pain.
- In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the misalignments that cause bunions.
When children hit growth spurts, it is because their growth plates have opened to speed the process up. However, because the plates are open, they are vulnerable to being pulled on by tendons. In the foot, this is called sever’s Disease or calcaneal apophysitis, and the Achilles tendon is usually the culprit. It is most common from ages 7 to 14, as this is when growth accelerates. Treatment usually involves rest from physical activity, as excessive strain can not only be painful but can also cause damage to the Achilles itself. Stretching exercises, pads, and medication also can help.
Achilles tendinitis occurs when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed from overuse. This can be caused by heavy physical activity, especially when the amount of activity suddenly increases. Achilles tendonitis can result in pain that is usually felt just above the heel. It may go hand-in-hand with and be caused by sever’s Disease.
The easiest way to prevent Achilles tendinitis is not to overexert yourself and acclimate to higher activity levels. For example, if you are a runner and want to double your daily distance, build up to that level instead of jumping straight there one day. If you do develop Achilles tendinitis, the best treatment is to rest your foot and refrain from strenuous activity. Stretching exercises can improve mobility in the short term, while ice and medication can help with the pain.
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that supports your foot’s arch, becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis may be to blame if you feel a sharp pain in your heel with your first steps out of bed. This pain typically subsides after a few minutes of walking but may return after a long period of rest or sleep. But don’t try to treat it with heavy physical activity – overexertion is one of the primary causes of plantar fasciitis and may aggravate it further. Plantar fasciitis can also be caused by an abnormal foot shape, such as an arch that is either nonexistent (flat feet) or too high. In these cases, shoe inserts are the most immediate way to treat plantar fasciitis.
Dealing with foot pain
Many of the foot conditions we have discussed are interconnected. They can occur simultaneously and aggravate each other; often, they have common root causes. As you’ve seen above, there are a few general principles that can reduce the chances of many foot conditions:
- Clip your toenails regularly.
- Wear shoes that give your toes space, aren’t too tight, and support your arch.
- Maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on the feet.
- Limit activity and rest your feet if you are feeling pain.
If your child is experiencing foot pain, the most important thing is to take it seriously. Home remedies like stretching exercises, ice, pads, and medication may provide short-term relief, but they usually cannot address the underlying causes of common foot issues. If foot problems go untreated, the pain can become even worse, and damage may be done. Don’t wait – play it safe and see a podiatrist right away.
Contact Metro Tulsa Foot and Ankle Specialists at any of our 5 locations so we can get your child moving pain-free again.