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Anatomy and development of the foot
Children are born with small flexible flat feet. Anatomically bones, nerves and a network of tendons, muscles and ligaments are responsible for the correct function, movement control and development of the growing child. These structures are ready to adapt in order to accommodate the needs of development as wells as challenge of walking and balance.
The neonatal and toddler foot is a complex structure that can be divided into 3 sections like in the adult foot. The forefoot, midfoot and hindfoot.
These joints are significant for a number of reasons. The foot provides:
- structural integrity
- an anchoring area for tendons to insert and provide stability
- Muscular control
- Postural influence
- standing and walking pattern
A large number of nerve endings and receptors are found in feet. They are used for correct perception of pressure, motion, pain, temperature, differentiate textures, and to allow the foot and body positioning to change quickly based on these senses.
Additionally in the first 24 month of life increased stimulation of the sole of the feet and toes is essential for attenuating the primitive reflexes and helping the toddler to balance and walk.
Allowing toddlers to be bare feet or with socks for a large part of the day is a great way of allowing the natural activation of these sensors. Another good method is the use of massage on the soles and feet, as well as walking on different surfaces: carpet, grass and wooden floors etc.
What does this mean for my child’s development?
Rapid growth is observed in terms of length and width in the developing feet, especially in the first few years of life. With skeletal and neurological maturity increasing, infants can progress from crawl to taking their first steps. Appropriate placement and mechanics of feet are fundamental for gait and over all postural control.
Considering how essential the overall alignment of the foot and the mechanics of the rest of the body are, a frequently musculoskeletal assessment of these structures is advised when important milestones are reached and after significant growth spurts.
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