Toe-walking is a condition where children walk on their toes instead of using a typical gait. Certain conditions, such as cerebral palsy, can cause toe-walking, according to background information in the study. But, sometimes, toe-walking occurs in children who appear to be healthy otherwise. This is called idiopathic, or habitual, toe-walking.
The Swedish study noted that toe-walking in otherwise healthy children often resolves on its own. By 5.5 years, “more than half of the children have spontaneously ceased to walk on their toes,” they concluded.
Thirty (20 boys and 10 girls) of the otherwise healthy children were current toe-walkers. That represented about 2 per cent of all the children. Another 40 children (22 boys and 18 girls) had previously walked on their toes. That means about 5 per cent of 5.5-year-old children had a history of toe-walking.
Most of the children, but not all, started walking on their toes. Eleven children developed toe-walking during their first year of walking, according to the study.
Of the 17 children with developmental delays or neuropsychiatric disorders, seven boys (41 per cent) had a history of toe-walking. About half of these children started walking on their toes. In two children, toe-walking started during the first year of walking, and one youngster started toe-walking during the second year of walking, the researchers found.
Left untreated, toe-walking can cause damage to the structures in the legs, ankles and heels. It can also create a social stigma, according to the study authors.
Commenting on the study, Dr Thomas agreed that every child is different and every treatment is different, but early intervention is key. The brain from zero to 3 years old is much more pliable.
He pointed out that children who walk on their toes tend to walk with their stomachs pushed forward, and that chiropractic care may help to move that centre of gravity back by normalising spinal structure and function, especially through improved proprioceptive feedback or the brains ability to know where the body is in space from joint position sensors in the nervous system. The longer that posture has been practiced, the longer it will likely take to correct says Dr Thomas.
Dr Thomas added that while the study found an association between toe-walking and developmental delays or neuropsychiatric disorders, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.