Working out whether orthotics for children are needed for your little champion can be really tough for a parent. In this article I’ll be taking you through what we podiatrists consider before prescribing a custom foot orthotic for kids feet.
Does Your Child Need Custom Orthotics?
Great question, to which the answer most of the time is no. Jog on…
Nothing in podiatry is ever that simple.
Whether your child needs custom foot orthotics is often really tricky to answer in a blog post for a multitude of reasons. To start, many parents have already been to a podiatrist, chiropractor, or physiotherapist with their child and they have been prescribed or advised that they need custom foot orthotics but not really understanding if or why.
Now if they’re lucky the advice is to go and see if a podiatrist and they’ve come to the wonderful skilled podiatrists at PridePlus Health.
If they’re not so lucky your kids might have been in orthotics for many years for conditions ranging from over pronation to flat feet. Two “conditions” and I use that term sparingly, which in the past were derided and required immediate orthotic interventions.
Now with increasing evidence and critical evaluation, are considered mostly non-issues, and definitely not a diagnosis.
Let’s now have a look at when might your child need a custom foot orthotic, but first, a super quick round so we’re all on the same page.
What is a custom foot orthotic for a child?
Custom foot orthotics are devices that sit underneath your feet, inside your kids’ shoes. They work by gently pushing on the foot to reduce the peak demands on certain structures; muscles, bones or joints if they are sore; or at risk of getting sore.
They work really well when taking an excessively loaded muscle, tendon or joint and decreasing the highest demand on that area and bring it back down to the comfort zone.
A custom foot orthotic can get big changes in pain and function with only small changes due to the cumulative nature of loading.
A small change each step, multiplied by 10,000 steps gives us 10,000 small changes AKA one big improvement.
In the past we thought custom foot orthotics worked by changing alignment.
We thought that taking an ankle that turned in and turning it out, or straightening up a tibia, or lifting up an arch was how these magic devices of plastic and foam worked.
With apologies to Merton Root – We were wrong.
These days we know that’s not the case. It’s all about the small changes in loading, that can lead to a big change in pain or pathology.
A modern custom for orthotic for a child is something that can be used to reduce pain in an excessively loaded area.
So when are orthotics for children needed for my child?
If your child is sore from an overuse pathology like Sever’s disease then a custom foot orthotic can be a useful treatment modality to allow return to pain free function and performance without sacrificing activity levels.
This can be particularly important during our developmental years as activity is crucial for building healthy habits for life, strong social friendship bonds, and even laying down the foundation for healthy tendons as adults.
Another example where a custom foot orthotic can be used is during sports where due to every person’s unique biomechanical profile your child might be at an increased risk of an acute injury. Say in netball or basketball, with an increased risk of ankle sprains.
In these cases an orthotic can be used to provide lateral stability under the foot to reduce the chance of an inversion ankle sprain occurring or recurring.
The elephant in the room when discussing a child’s need for custom foot orthotics is what happens as that little champion grows?
- Will they grow out of the injury risk profile?
- Will they grow out of the orthotic?
- Do parents need to buy orthotics every 6 months as your young girls and boys grow like garden weeds?
- And will a shoe change or a prefabricated orthotic be enough?
For many kids, the answers are just as complex as the first question.
Yes our kids will grow, and no their orthotics will not. Children are also highly adaptable and often have a greater capacity to train their bodies than many of us older adults. Plenty of times a simple exercise program can guide a child through an injury or pathology without the use of a custom foot orthotic.
But not always.
So, orthotics for children. Considering how unique we all are, and then throw in the variety of things our kids get up to as well, it’s really hard to answer the main question without conducting a thorough podiatry assessment.
From personal clinical experience, there have been many times where a child has come into clinic and a custom foot orthotic has been used successfully as part of our treatment plan.
On the whole however, many more children have attended PridePlus Health podiatrists and achieved their goals without the use of custom foot orthotics.
If you’re even more confused about whether your child needs custom foot orthotics at all then ask yourself these three questions.
- Is my child sore during activity?
- Is my child having repeat injuries?
- Have you seen an expert such as a paediatrician or podiatrist who works with children who has advised on going down the custom orthotic pathway?
If the answer is yes to these, then booking in with a podiatrist is an excellent option to work out exactly what treatment plan – whether it involves custom foot orthotics or not – is right for your little champion.
Before you go…
Now you’re prepared with all the information about orthotics for children, what about their shoes? We have a guide on the best school shoes right here ready to help too.
If you do need custom orthotics then we have options to suit.
About the author
Melbourne podiatrist Tim Mulholland has been consulting for over a decade and teaching at La Trobe University nearly that long too. He’s seen the change in podiatry practice from the non-evidence based high orthotic, to the more nuanced approach of orthotics when necessary along side other evidence based treatments (including exercise and load optimisation).