Skip to main content

Should you be concerned if your toddler walks on their toes? Experts weigh in

Once your little one has gone from crawler to walker and has her legs firmly beneath her, you may notice another development — toe-walking. While it may seem like your new walker is destined for stardom as a ballerina, there could be an underlying physiological or developmental cause instead of just a quirky preference. Here are just a few reasons your little one might toe-walk and what you can do about it.

A mother chasing her toddler.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why toddlers walk on their toes

Physiological reasons for toe-walking

It’s no surprise that babies grow fast. When a growth spurt hits, your little one can shoot up without warning. This growth means that the long bones in the body grow more quickly than muscles. When the tibia, otherwise called the shin bone, grows, it tasks a little while for the calf muscle to catch up. This discrepancy can cause tightness in the muscles of the lower leg as well as in the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the bottom of the heel.

To relieve the strain and discomfort caused by too-short calf muscles, toddlers will occasionally walk on their heels. This method of walking shortens the tendon and muscle, making it more comfortable to walk.

BraunS / Getty Images

Developmental reasons for toe-walking

Toe-walking for an extended period of time, usually longer than six months or so, can be indicative of developmental delays or sensory issues and has even been associated with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. If your child is sensitive to certain textures, walking on his toes can reduce his exposure to unpleasant textures through the bottom of his feet. Also, if your baby was born prematurely or had other health issues after birth and experienced a number of heel-stick blood draws, the possibility of tissue damage exists, and walking flat-footed might cause pain.

When to be concerned about toe-walking

Toe-walking isn’t uncommon when children are just learning to walk. Exploring how their feet work and what they are capable of is just part and parcel of a toddler’s curious nature. According to the Mayo Clinic, if your toddler continues to toe-walk after age two, you should check in with your pediatrician to determine if there is an underlying cause.

Continued toe-walking increases your child’s risk of falls and injury, so it’s best to address it if it doesn’t resolve on its own. Most children who toe-walk as toddlers begin to use a normal gait with no issues. It’s estimated that as many as 12% of toddlers toe-walk for no reason.

Treatments for toe-walking

If it’s determined that your child is toe-walking due to discomfort from the Achilles tendon, your pediatrician or physical therapist can guide you through a series of gentle stretches designed to lengthen the tendon and increase flexibility. These stretches are usually well-tolerated, but care should be taken to not over-stretch as that can damage the tendon.

If your child is toe-walking due to an underlying condition like cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, treatments may include ankle bracing or casting for severe cases. For children who toe-walk as a symptom of ASD or sensory problems, exposing your child to different textures might help. Consult with your child’s health care provider before beginning any treatment at home.

Activities like yoga, dance (not ballet!), and martial arts can also help improve gait and balance for children who toe-walk.

Editors' Recommendations

Kristi Pahr
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kristi is a professional writer and mother of two. When she's not writing or playing chauffeur to her kids, she enjoys…
Should your kids have an Apple Watch?
These are the pros and cons of an Apple Watch for your kid
A person checking their Apple watch.

If there’s one thing on every kid’s wish list when they get to a certain age, it’s a smartwatch. Wearables are the coolest and fun new gadgets for kids, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight with the demand for one. Smartwatches are the height of convenience, allowing users to leave their phones in their bags and do everything right there on their wrists. But since there isn't a kids' Apple Watch version available, children are getting the real deal.

With all the convenience, though, some people have major privacy concerns about wearable devices, especially when it comes to their children. When used correctly with appropriate parental controls, smartwatches, especially the Apple Watch, could be a boon to both kids and parents alike. But should your kid sport a device designed for adults? Let's see if children should wear an Apple Watch or if it's one more device they shouldn't be left alone with.

Read more
This one sure signal your toddler feels out of control
Toddler pulling hair may mean they're feeling out of control
Toddler pulling their hair

The toddler years are full of development and discovery that can often be a bit overwhelming for them at times. Let's face it, toddlers are inundated with new experiences almost daily, which can often lead to some behaviors you may find troubling. As a result, they can often become frustrated as they try to process all this new information. They don't call them the 'terrible twos' for nothing!

While temper tantrums and meltdowns come hand in hand with having a toddler, there are other behaviors that may be a sign that they're not quite feeling like themselves. If your toddler is pulling their own hair, it may be because they feel out of control, which can be completely understandable. Toddlers pulling their hair is a very common behavior and is often a form of self-soothing that helps them cope with stressful situations. If you've noticed your toddler has begun to pull their hair, there are some things you can do to help.

Read more
Why you need baby earmuffs to protect your child from noise
No need to miss out on loud events with baby earmuffs
Baby with noise-canceling headphones

Loud noises can be annoying for most people, but for a baby, loud noises can negatively impact their hearing. Noisy environments can be more than just scary to your little one. The alarming fact is that long-term or even short periods of exposure to especially loud sounds can damage your newborn, infant, or toddler's sensitive inner ear — potentially leading to noise-induced hearing loss.

Unfortunately, severe damage to the hearing nerve is irreversible. If you suspect your young child may have some hearing loss, you will want to ask a doctor or specialist to perform tests. To help prevent hearing loss, you'll want to do everything you can to keep their ears healthy and safe, like getting a pair of baby earmuffs for your little one. Headphones for infants can actually give little ones the protective benefits of noise reduction. Want to know when to slap a pair on your peanut? Read on for all the important tips and info.

Read more