With kids hitting the field for soccer, football and other fall sports, parents may want to take notice of their feet.
Problem arches may hold the clue to leg pain, feeling overly tired after practice, inefficient gait or other problems that could sideline children and teens.
Flat feet, a condition involving the total or partial collapse of the arch, is not usually a cause for concern since most kids outgrow it. But if not closely monitored or treated in more serious cases, it can lead to aching legs, sore knees, clumsiness and excessive muscle fatigue.
"A lot of things start from the ground up," said Dr. Breck Tiernan, a podiatrist at the Advanced Foot and Ankle Clinic in Joliet. "If the feet aren't properly aligned, everything else can get messed up."
Tiernan estimates about 20 percent of his patients are younger than 18 with some as young as 3 years old, but most come in for ingrown toenails, warts or other unrelated ailments. Some, however, need help with flat feet. Typically, he said, parents start noticing flat feet in their children as they get more involved in organized sports.
One patient, he said, was a runner in high school and noticed she had pain only when she ran. She tried physical therapy and eventually found herself in his office because of her flat feet. A simple custom orthotic corrected the problem.
"Ever since then, she's been sprinting pain free," Tiernan said.
Physical therapist Becky Stonitsch works solely with pediatric patients and has seen how flat feet can cause other problems for children.
"It's important to look down at their feet too," said Stonitsch, whose company, High Hopes Inc., provides home health care services to pediatric patients and partners with agencies such as the federal Early Intervention Program.
Stonitsch and others suggested a few things to look for:
•The wear and tear on a shoe can tell a lot. If a shoe is worn more on one side than another, flat feet or the alignment of the foot could be an issue.
•Pain in joints or tiring easily after activity.
•Pain in feet.
•The arch is low and overly relaxed when the child walks.
•If one or both parents have flat feet, chances are greater that the child will have flat feet as well.
One simple way to tell if someone has a flat foot is to have them leave a wet foot print. A flat foot will leave a print of the entire foot while a foot with an arch will leave a print that is missing part of the middle of the foot.
"People are a little bit more knowledgeable about paying attention to kids' feet," said Dr. Mary DeGroot, a podiatrist at the DeGroot Foot and Ankle Clinic in New Lenox.
Though flat feet can cause problems for some younger patients, children with the condition don't necessarily require treatment, DeGroot said.
Also, children younger than 6 often can wait for treatment –– so long as the problem is not severe. The arch in the foot typically is not fully developed until around that age, DeGroot and Stonitsch noted. DeGroot said she normally waits –– when possible –– to treat pediatric patients for flat feet until after age 6.
In cases where treatment is necessary, a custom-fit orthotic shoe insert often does the trick. A good shoe also helps.
"Most kids tend to grow out of it," DeGroot said, adding that a lot of children can be asymptomatic and not require any form of treatment.
However, she warned that leaving a flat foot unchecked could lead to more severe problems –– such as arthritis or a stiffer foot –– later in life.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times