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Why do babies walk on tiptoes?

A baby's legs, walking on tiptoes

For babies, the world is full of firsts. From day one, we watch eagerly so they don’t miss a thing—and there’s no milestone more exciting than a baby’s first steps. But whether your baby has just learned to walk or is well on their way to running around with other children, you might have noticed that they’re walking on their tiptoes instead of on their whole foot.

But why do they do this?

Why your toddler is walking on their toes

1. They’re learning

One explanation is that they just haven’t learned to walk properly yet. Walking is a surprisingly complicated process involving lots of different bones and muscles, so it’s no wonder it takes a while for babies to figure it out. Remember, it wasn’t very long ago that they couldn’t even sit up, and it won’t be too long before they’re racing about like cheetahs.

It may feel like it’s taking an age, but the chances are your baby is progressing just fine. When they learn how to walk, they have to learn how to make their muscles move in a totally new way and develop the leg strength they need to support themselves. All of this takes time, so if your baby is tiptoeing, it could just mean they need a little longer to perfect their technique.

If you’re concerned about your child’s motor development, it’s best to talk to a doctor who can advise and reassure you. Meanwhile, make sure your baby’s feet are being looked after - even if it doesn’t stop the toe-walking, it will keep your child healthy and happy in the long run.

2. Growth spurts

At the same time as learning to walk, your child is growing rapidly, and that might cause them to walk on their tiptoes. Often, growth spurts can cause muscle strain that may be uncomfortable, so children might walk on their toes to shorten the stretch on their calf muscles and relieve that discomfort.

This isn’t anything to worry about, though. Over time, this muscle strain will decrease until your child doesn’t even notice it—and they’ll soon be walking with their whole foot.

3. Walkers

Walking on tiptoes could be something as innocent as a habit. If your child got started with a walker, it could be that they tiptoed to see over it—and now continue to do so, even without the walker blocking their view.

Whether it’s a conscious habit or not, the best time to try and break it is now. If children continue to toe-walk past the age of five or six, it could lead to health and balance problems later in life. In this case, breaking the habit could involve doing balance exercises like yoga, or if your child is a little older, learning to skate.

4. Incorrect footwear

It’s possible that your baby’s footwear is causing them to walk on tiptoes, and this could be for two reasons. Firstly, if the shoes don’t fit properly, they may find it uncomfortable, or even painful, to walk on their whole foot. The best way to remedy this is to get your child’s feet professionally sized so you can be sure their next pair of walking shoes is just right. Remember, one foot can be bigger than the other!

Secondly, there may be a sensory issue involved. The shoes might not be the wrong size or shape, but their texture can cause discomfort too. Imagine if your shoes had sandpaper insoles. If your child has sensitive feet, some materials might feel coarser than you’d expect. An easy way to tackle this is to ask your child how the shoes feel when they try them on.

Why should toe walking be addressed early?

Although toe walking in toddlers is not something to be concerned about, it’s important to address it over time. This is especially important if your child continues to walk on their toes past their second birthday. There are a few reasons why addressing this issue is so important. Reasons include:

It can indicate underlying health conditions
In the majority of cases, toe walking is totally harmless. However, if your toddler is continuing to toe walk despite attempts to address this habit, this could highlight an underlying neurological or muscular issue that may require medical attention. Early diagnosis and intervention for these forms of conditions often lead to better treatment options and outcomes. So if you’re becoming concerned about your child’s toe walking, be sure to visit your GP.

It can cause health problems later down the line
Even if your child’s toe walking is not caused by an underlying issue, over time, it can actually cause one. Long-term toe walking can cause muscle tightness and contractures, as well as hinder proper gait development. In extreme cases, it can also impact skeletal alignment and muscle balance, increasing the risk of orthopaedic problems such as foot deformities or joint pain later in life.

It can lead to falls
Aside from highlighting existing conditions and causing long-term health problems, the consequences of toe walking can also be more immediate. Indeed, persistent toe walking in children can increase the risk of falling, and injuries associated with falls, slips and trips.

How to stop your child toe walking

If your child’s toe walking is out of habit, the chances are no action is needed. They will typically just outgrow this behaviour in time. However, if you’re becoming concerned with this habit, you should seek professional medical advice. After initial assessment, your GP may recommend one of the following:

Physical therapy
Physiotherapists can help with stretching of the leg and foot muscles. Over time this might help to properly develop your child's gait and stop toe walking habits.

Use orthotic devices
A medical professional might also suggest the use of an orthotic device to help prevent toe walking. This could include something as simple as an orthotic insole, bespoke rigid carbon fibre footplates, or, in extreme cases, ankle foot orthoses (AFOs).

Wear the right footwear
As a first port of call, a medical professional may simply recommend trying to encourage your child to wear supportive shoes. By providing footwear that gives stability and encourages proper alignment, the right pair of high-quality shoes could help your child to naturally stop toe walking and develop healthier walking habits.