Babies are often born with flat feet, which may persist well into their childhood. This occurs because children’s bones and joints are flexible, causing their feet to flatten when they stand. Young babies also have a fat pad on the inner border of their feet that hides the arch. You still can see the arch if you lift your baby up on the tips of the toes, but it disappears when he’s standing normally. The foot may also turn out, increasing the weight on the inner side and making it appear even more flat.
Normally, flat feet disappear by age six as the feet become less flexible and the arches develop. Only about 1 or 2 out of every 10 children will continue to have flat feet into adulthood. For children who do not develop an arch, treatment is not recommended unless the foot is stiff or painful. Shoe inserts won’t help your child develop an arch, and may cause more problems than the flat feet themselves.
However, certain forms of flat feet may need to be treated differently. For instance, a child may have tightness of the heel cord (Achilles tendon) that limits the motion of his foot. This tightness can result in a flat foot, but it usually can be treated with special stretching exercises to lengthen the heel cord. Rarely, a child will have truly rigid flat feet, a condition that can cause problems. These children have difficulty moving the foot up and down or side to side at the ankle. The rigid foot can cause pain and, if left untreated, can lead to arthritis. This rigid type of flat foot is seldom seen in an infant or very young child. (More often, rigid flat feet develop during the teen years and should be evaluated by your child’s pediatrician.)
Symptoms that should be checked by a pediatrician include foot pain, sores or pressure areas on the inner side of the foot, a stiff foot, limited side-to-side foot motion, or limited up-and-down ankle motion. For further treatment you should see a pediatric orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist experienced in childhood foot conditions.