Common Foot Problems That Your Kids May Have

You might joke around that your baby has stinky feet, but it isn’t funny when your teen takes off their shoes and everyone leaves the room… Learn what’s causing it and about other common foot problems.problems?

Do your kids ever complain about problems with their feet?

From athlete's foot to toe walking, your pediatrician can help evaluate your child's foot problems.
From athlete’s foot to toe walking, your pediatrician can help evaluate your child’s foot problems. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

If not, they probably will at some point…

Common Pediatric Foot Problems

Fortunately, not all of those complaints will be caused by real problems.

Some will be though, so it is important to learn about common pediatric foot conditions (comprehensive information is provided in the links below), including:

  • ankle sprains – it is typically good news to hear that your child only has an ankle sprain and that nothing is broken, but that doesn’t always mean a quick recovery. A moderate or severe ankle sprain can mean a recovery plan that takes up to 6 to 12 weeks! Remember the RICE protocal (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and an age appropriate dose of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like ibuprofen or naproxen, if your child has a mild sprain, and see your pediatrician if your child sprains their ankle and has severe pain, can’t bear weight on their foot, or isn’t getting better.
  • in-toeing – unless a baby’s foot is rigid (a sign of club foot), in-toeing is usually normal and doesn’t require treatment. That’s despite what you may hear from grandparents who swear up and down that they remember wearing special shoes when they had in-toeing. While they probably did, that isn’t routinely done anymore, as most kids grow out of their in-toeing without treatment.
  • out-toeing – also usually normal and doesn’t require treatment with special shoes or casting, like they did “in the old days.”
  • athlete’s foot – common in older teens, who can have dry, scaling skin on their feet that itches or burns, especially between their toes, athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is less common in younger children who are more likely to have JPD. Athlete’s foot can usually be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal medication. If it doesn’t go away after a few weeks, it is time to think of another diagnosis, consider if your child might have a secondary bacterial infection, or if a prescription oral medication might be necessary.
  • fungal nail infections – in addition to athlete’s foot, kids can also get a fungal infection in their toe nails (onychomycosis). If mild, a topical antifungal medication may be all that is needed to treat your child’s fungal nail infection, but oral antifungal drugs are usually needed.
  • plantar warts – sometimes confused with corns, plantar warts are common in kids and can be treated with over-the-counter remedies when they become bothersome.
  • blisters – if your kids are active, or if they are relatively inactive, but you end up on a long walk on a vacation, they will likely end up with a friction blister on their feet at some point. What do you do? Apply a hydrocolloid gel bandage (readily available over-the-counter) to the blister, draining large blisters if necessary.
  • ingrown toenails – common in teens who pick at or trim their toenails too short, ingrown toenails (onychocryptosis) can become really bothersome when they become infected. If soaks and antibiotics don’t help, the ingrown toenail may need to be surgically removed. Make sure your kids wear shoes that fit properly and trim their toenails straight across to prevent them from getting ingrown toenails.
  • heel pain – many active pre-teens and teenagers have pain in their heels. It is often caused by Sever disease (think of it like growing pains instead of a “disease”) and can be treated with heel pads or cups, icing after sports, stretching exercises, and symptomatic care.
  • flat feet – while parents often complain that their kids have flat feet, most have flexible flat feet and don’t need treatment. On the other hand, some rigid flat feet, which is more rare, and might require treatment. Does your child have an arch when they stand on their tip toes?
  • overpronation – does it seem like your child’s ankles bend inward when he stands or walks, even to the point that he wears out the inside parts of his shoes quicker than the outside? While it can be normal, if it is leading to foot, ankle, knee, or back pain, then your child likely needs arch supports for his shoes (pronation insoles) or custom made orthotics.
  • toe walking – while normal before age two to three years, children who continue to toe walk after age three to five years, especially if they always toe walk or refuse to walk in a normal heel-to-toe pattern should have an evaluation and will likely need therapy to help them walk properly.
  • bunions – can kids really get bunions? They can, presenting with a big bump at the base of their big toe (juvenile hallux valgus), which will turn toward the second toe.
  • bunionette – when they occur at the base of your child’s little toe, the painful bump is called a bunionette.
  • corns and calluses – often confused with a plantar wart, you can often tell the difference between a corn or callus and a wart because warts disrupt normal skin lines and might have little black ‘seeds’ inside them (broken blood vessels). If you still aren’t sure, just remember that warts are more common than corns and calluses in kids.
  • curly toe – kids with curly toes have underlapping toes and while it often doesn’t cause symptoms, when it does, surgery can fix it.
  • juvenile plantar dermatosis – JPD is often confused with athlete’s foot, as they have similar symptoms – red, scaling skin on the feet and toes. JPD, which is also called sweaty socks syndrome, occurs in younger kids and spares the toe webs though, and it is not caused by a fungus. Wearing cotton socks, and changing them frequently, shoes that fit well, and applying a moisturizer and steroid cream can treat JPD.
  • foot odor – does your child have smelly feet? While you likely want to blame a fungus, stinky feet are usually caused by a bacterial infection, an infection that might cause a very mild rash on the bottom of your child’s feet that can go unnoticed – and smelly feet. It can be treated with a topical antibiotic ointment, not letting shoes get wet, and changing sweaty socks often.
  • sweaty feet – a lot of kids have sweaty feet and unfortunately, that can lead to some of the problems listed above. Some have really sweaty feet (plantar hyperhidrosis) though, to the point that they have to change their socks several times a day. It might also help to buy super absorbent insoles for all of their shoes, moisture wicking socks (Drymax and Copper sole socks, etc.), absorbent foot powder, and mesh type shoes.

Need extra help with your child’s feet?

See your pediatrician. Depending on the issue, a pediatric dermatologist, pediatric orthopedic surgeon, or a podiatrist with expertise in pediatric conditions might also be helpful.

What to Know About Common Pediatric Foot Problems

From athlete’s foot and blisters to plantar warts and sweaty feet, there are many foot problems that parents should learn about and hopefully learn to prevent.

More on Common Pediatric Foot Problems

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