I think it’s customary to think orthotics = seniors. Years and years of damage to your body, resulting in ugly chunky footwear and orthotics. What people don’t actually know is that custom made orthotics can be very beneficial for a wide range of ages and can actually help to prevent some of the damage you would otherwise do.
So comes the question - do children need orthotics?
Catching It Early
The goal of any custom made orthotics is to gently reposition the foot to an optimized biomechanical position. Like anything, it’s better to catch the problem early and intercept as soon as possible. The same is true concerning foot problems. Foot health is often ignored in children and can lead to serious problems down the road.
Children with foot conditions that go undiagnosed and unaddressed, can lead to chronic pain and mobility problems down the road. Not only is it important to fix the actual problem as far as the specific diagnoses, but it is also important to help your children form healthy habits. If a child is suffering with painful feet, they are more likely to sit inside watching TV or gaming compared to running outside and playing sports.
When you’re younger, orthotics can actually help correct the problems with your feet. Once an adult, you may consider reconstructive surgery if the problems, or pain, are extreme. Surgery is often avoided for children as they are still growing. The biggest problem children face is flat feet. Many children don’t develop permanent arches until the age of 5, while others never do - which can lead to further problems. Some of the problems may include heel pain, arch pain, overpronation, and misalignment throughout the feet and legs. Over time, you may develop a poor walking gait and chronic pain throughout your body. There is only a small window of time to make a significant change to your child’s foot structure and gait. It is best to intervene as soon as possible because their condition isn’t going to disappear.
Fortunately, orthotics are perfect for treating this kind of condition and nipping it in the butt from the beginning is beneficial. Not only will custom made orthotics provide extra support for the arch, but it helps to realign your entire body - feet, ankles, knees, and back!
Usually, a pediatrician would be the one to recommend orthotics for your child, however, a specialized store will also be able to tell whether your child should use orthotics or not.
Flat feet aren’t the only condition that can be treated with orthotics. Other common pediatric foot concerns include:
- Heel Pain
- High Arches
- Leg length discrepancies
- Juvenile bunions
- Foot and ankle sport injuries
In The Long Run
Now, just because your child currently has these conditions, doesn’t necessarily mean they require orthotics, or any treatment right away. In some cases, children grow out of them naturally. If you do notice your child struggling with pain, unnatural walking gait, or any other foot and ankle problems, it should be addressed as soon as possible to determine if there are any serious causes at play.
The biggest difference when talking about custom made orthotics between children and adults is that children's feet (along with the rest of them) are still growing and changing rapidly. Not only are their shoe sizes constantly changing, but they haven’t reached full skeletal maturity yet. Like with anything as your child is growing, they will outgrow their orthotics a lot quicker than adults do. While most orthotics last a few years, children may only get a year out of them before needing another pair.
The good news though, is that if the orthotics help their feet continue to develop in a more natural alignment, they may outgrow the need for orthotics altogether. It is still possible that your child may need orthotics permanently, but, similar to corrective lenses, custom made orthotics allow your feet and alignment to function correctly.
8 Common Questions
Here are the most common questions regarding children and orthotics.
1.Does my child need to wear orthotics for the rest of their life?
The earlier you are able to catch your child’s foot problem or pain, the bigger the chance they will help to reposition the foot and your child will not have to wear orthotics for their entire life. Some children who start wearing orthotics between the ages of 3 and 5, don’t wear orthotics past their teenage years.
2. Can their orthotics be used in any pair of shoes?
Like with any custom made orthotics, they’re only as good as the footwear you wear them in. This doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. You want shoes that have a good outsole, firm heel, and extra depth. Some orthotics take up some extra space inside of the shoe, so you may need to fit your child for a larger/wider size.
3. Do orthotics work?
As long as you have the correct type of custom made orthotics, they can help to significantly improve your child's gait and overall posture. The orthotics help to prevent their feet from turning inwards or outwards. Don’t forget, orthotics are very dependent on individual foot anatomy. What works well for one person/child, may be different from what works for someone else.
4. Should my child wear orthotics all the time?
The longer they’re able to wear the orthotics the better. However, like with anyone, they may want a break sometimes and it’s ok to allow them to run around and play without their orthotics.
5. How long will my child's orthotics last?
Orthotics for children can last anywhere between 5 ½ - 6 months. Some cases may last longer, while others may be shorter. It all depends on the specific foot health needs of the child and how quickly they are growing.
6. Should orthotics hurt when I first wear them?
Orthotics are designed to help your feet. However, some take more time to adjust than others. Oftentimes with children, they will complain about the ‘bump’ under the middle of their foot. This is the arch support and will take some time to get used to, especially if you’re used to walking without it.
7. Do orthotics go on top of the footwear insoles?
To ensure your child is comfortable when wearing their orthotics and shoes, you want to ensure that their footwear is orthotic friendly. This means that the insoles are removable, making room for the orthotic to fit. If the orthotic ends up on top of the original insoles, it could make your child feel as though their feet are coming out of their shoes.
8. Will orthotics weaken my child's feet?
Not at all! Orthotics are made to help support your child’s feet and reposition any misalignment.
There are a variety of reasons why children benefit from custom made orthotics, across different ages. The use varies from child to child, and at varying levels of support, but the main goal is to provide stability while promoting functional ability.