Human feet have it much tougher than feet belonging to four-footed animals. Just two human feet must support the weight of the entire body. And both feet must be in good working order for a human to be able to walk or run. A four-footed animal manages to get along even if one of his feet is out of commission for a while.
Mothers often think that something is wrong with their child’s feet when actually they are perfectly normal. But it doesn’t do any harm for them to think so, because it leads them to take their child to a special doctor, called an orthopedist, for an examination. And it is a good thing for a child to have his feet examined once in a while.
Here a flat foot and a foot with an abnormally high arch (pes cavus) are compared to a normal foot. Flat feet are extremely common in children. Pes cavus is the opposite of flat feet, and doesn’t become noticeable until the child reaches seven or eight years of age.
There are several abnormal conditions of the feet with which a child can be born. Here are a few of them:
1. Flatfoot. This is the most common condition affecting a child’s feet. It means that the normal arch of the foot is not strong and, as a result, the whole undersurface of the foot touches the floor when the child is standing. (See the diagram.)
Flatfoot usually results from weak muscles and ligaments in the foot, but it may also be caused by spasm of foot muscles, or by faulty development of some of the bones of the feet.
Wearing the wrong kind of shoes won’t give a child flatfoot, but it may make a case of mild flatfoot get worse.
There are things that can be done to help flatfoot:
A. With bare feet, try to pick up marbles from a carpeted floor with your toes. (See the diagram.) Hold the marble with your toes and place it in a bowl.
B. Stand several inches away from a wall and gently push back and forth from the wall while keeping your soles and heels flat on the floor.
C. Flatfoot can also be helped by wearing arch supports inside the shoes, or by getting special shoes advised by the orthopedist.
D. Children with flatfoot may have no pain at all, or their feet and legs may hurt from the condition. Whether E. such children have pain or not, they should be encouraged to run and play like other children. Exercise helps flatfoot, as it will strengthen weak muscles and ligaments.
2. Pes cavus. This condition is the opposite of flatfoot. In other words, the arches are too high. Pes cavus doesn’t usually become noticeable until the child reaches seven to eight years of age. Then calluses (hard, thickened skin) will develop on the soles of the feet and the toes will appear to be pushed backwards over the top of the foot. Also, the heel bones look larger than normal.
Pes cavus is not nearly so common as flatfoot. It is treated by stretching the tight tissues of the sole of the feet and by wearing special shoes that have a leather bar across the sole just where the toes join the main part of the foot.
In a few cases, it is necessary to operate upon a foot with pes cavus, and this usually controls the condition.
3. Pigeon toes. In this condition, the front of the feet turn inward and the child walks with the heels of the feet turned out. Some children with pigeon toes have something wrong with the bones of their legs or hips. If the hips don’t fit into their sockets properly, an operation to correct the condition will have to be done. When the bone condition is corrected, pigeon toes disappear. However, most youngsters with pigeon toes have no serious bone condition and all that is necessary is a pair of special orthopedic shoes. These shoes will make the child walk with his feet pointing straight out.
Flat feet may be improved by the proper exercises. One exercise involves picking up marbles from the floor with the toes and placing them in a bowl.
Years ago, parents used to have their pigeon-toed children wear their right shoe on their left foot, and their left shoe on their right foot. This forced them to keep their feet straight. Try it, and see how funny it feels.
Most children enjoy running around barefoot, both indoors and out. It is perfectly all right to go barefoot, except under these conditions:
1. Don’t go barefoot indoors if there are wooden floors from which you can get splinters in your feet.
2. Don’t go barefoot indoors when the house is cold. This may make you catch a cold.
3. Don’t go barefoot outside in places where you might step on broken glass or nails, or get splinters in your feet.
4. Don’t go barefoot in places where animals soil the ground. Animal droppings may contain germs or parasites (tiny worms that can be seen only under a microscope) that can get into your body through the soles of your feet and cause disease.
5. Don’t run barefoot on very hot streets. You may burn your soles.
Ingrown toenails are most easily avoided if children are taught to cut the nail on the big toe straight across so it does not grow into the skin groove.
Here are some more things children should know about taking good care of their precious feet.
1. If shoes feel too tight, you have probably outgrown them. Let your parents know, and stop wearing shoes that no longer fit.
2. If you are getting irritation of the skin of your heels, it may mean your shoes are too big for you. That’s easy to correct by inserting a pad inside the heel of the shoes.
3. If you are developing a corn on one of your toes, it probably means you need a wider-sized shoe. Let your parents know.
4. Toenails, especially the big toenail, should always be cut straight across, not down in the corners. (See the diagram.) This will avoid ingrown toenails and other infections around the nails.
5. Feet must be washed thoroughly every day. Dirty feet may contain germs that can get into the body and cause sickness.
6. Toes get frostbitten very easily. Therefore, in cold weather, make sure to wear warm socks and heavy shoes.