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Stepping into their GREAT, BIG Shoes

I wanted to discuss something today that isn’t business-related. But, still, I wanted to discuss it to raise awareness as it’s a common problem among children that some do not just grow out of.

My daughters suffer from an idiopathic condition that causes them to walk on their tiptoes rather than in a typical pattern (stepping heel first). As a result, the girls also have decreased balance and coordination and fall frequently. We’ve had comments like, she’s just so clumsy, or she’s just going to grow up to be a ballerina, or she’ll be great in a pair of high heels when she’s older. Jokes aside, if left untreated, my girls could end up with muscle deformity and lousy posture.

Although toe walking is common amongst infants learning to walk, a consistent heel-toe pattern usually develops by approximately 22 months. If toe walking persists beyond age 2 years, then it could warrant further investigation.

When my eldest was 2 years old, doctors told me she would grow out of it repeatedly. I would mention it at her child development and doctor appointments, and I would be brushed off, supposedly reassured that it was nothing to worry about. That was until my eldest had a fall and injured herself, and I sat in the doctor’s surgery and begged to have her referred to a specialist.

I was referred to the child development centre. We had gone on repeated visits to physio and orthotic clinics with them telling me to “take her home and exercise the joints”. Until eventually, she was cast just in time to start reception year at school. As if starting school wasn’t scary enough for a 4-year-old, she now had to go to school with 2 uncomfortable casts and had to explain that she hasn’t broken her legs to everyone in her class.

Splints are a nightly ritual in our house to try and get them to stretch and train their muscles to allow their feet to sit flat. Unfortunately, my 9-year old’s condition is worse than my 3-year-old. Her left foot won’t go flat to 90 degrees, let alone dorsiflex anything past that.

Last week we had the news that My eldest is facing her 3rd casting in 4 years; this is when they put a semi-flexible plaster cast around her foot, ankle and finish just below her knee. These casts are left on for 4 weeks in a position that aims to force her feet flatter and stretch out her muscles. We’ve been told that she will have a 5th casting before she finishes Primary school. When my eldest reaches secondary school, she will likely need orthotic surgery to lengthen and reposition her tendons to give her more flexibility. This procedure, I hope, will allow her to walk with flat feet in a heel-toe motion.

Over the years, we’ve gone through shoes at a rate of knots as the toes get worn out really quickly. After all, shoes are designed to take the impact from the heel, not the toe. As a result, the girls are clumsy and prone to falling over frequently. It’s been a running joke in our family that the girls can fall over thin air. Their legs are often bruised and scraped as a result. It’s not their fault; they don’t know any different. There haven’t been many studies into toe walking. Still, one doctor in the US stated that it could have severe consequences in adulthood affecting posture and cause severe muscle pain if left untreated. We already see the effects of toe-walking in my eldest’s posture. When asked to put her feet flat, she leans forward, and her bum sticks out. Asking her to stand with feet flat on the floor, heels and shoulders against a wall for several minutes is like me telling you to hold the plank exercise for several minutes. It hurts her core and her legs.

But as much as my girls complain and cry over having, sometimes painful, splints and uncomfortable casts, we persevere. And I am in awe of their courage and tenacity in overcoming this challenge at such young ages. Even with these hurdles – they smile the greatest and the prettiest. And they make everything we go through WORTH IT!

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