Parents often ask about the lack of arches on their children’s feet, worrying they may have flat feet, but if your little one is not yet at school it really shouldn’t be a cause for concern. For most children, arches become visible between the ages of 3 to 6 years old.
At birth, babies’ feet are covered in a layer of fat to protect their developing bones. The fatty pads underneath the inner arch are covered in sensory receptors, increasing the surface area of the foot in contact with the ground and sending vital information to the brain as your little one takes their first steps and learns to walk.
As they become more active, the muscles and ligaments of the feet become stronger and the fat pads gradually reduce in size to reveal the arch. Arch development continues throughout childhood and into adolescence, with the arch not reaching its full height and strength until well into their teens.
When we talk about the arch of the foot, we’re usually referring to the arch running along the inner edge of the foot from heel to ball, called the medial longitudinal arch.
There are two other arches in our feet. The lateral longitudinal arch, which runs along the outer edge of the foot, aiding stability and balance, and the transverse arch, which spans the width of the foot, helping to distribute our weight evenly.
The medial longitudinal arch plays a significant role in shock absorption and propulsion. There is a tendency to believe that wearing shoes that support this arch is good for our feet, and while in some cases this can be true, for many, and particularly for children, placing support underneath the arch will prevent it functioning as effectively as it should.
The more structure, support and cushioning you place around the feet, the more you inhibit their natural movement, resulting in less active feet and weaker muscles. The stronger and fitter our feet, the less support they need.
Wearing well-fitted, appropriate footwear and regular exercise, including running, jumping and climbing, will help strengthen the muscles and ligaments of the feet, support arch development and result in fit and healthy feet.
A simple way to check your child’s arches is to encourage them to stand on tiptoes. This extends the foot, stretching out the muscles, and you’ll be able to see more clearly the shape of their developing arch.
Of course, genetics have their part to play in how our feet develop. So if either parent has flat feet or high arches, it’s more likely your children will inherit a similar foot structure. It’s good to be aware of this and look out for signs of any issues, such as foot pain or difficulties with walking or running, and consult your doctor or a podiatrist if you have any concerns.
It’s also helpful to understand that pronation, a slight rolling in of the foot, is a natural and essential part of our walking pattern. This movement distributes the forces of impact as our body weight shifts from the heel to the ball of the foot, aiding shock absorption and stability. The majority of us have a neutral pronation pattern, however, some overpronate or supinate (roll outwards), which may require intervention or more supportive footwear.
Pronation patterns change as a child grows, influenced by many factors, such as their muscle development, balance, wearing a nappy or what they’re wearing on their feet (and whether it fits well). Young children have a natural tendency toward pronation as their feet, and the rest of their body, grow and develop. Again, if it’s causing you concern seek a medical opinion.
During the early years, everything about your child is developing rapidly. It can be difficult to keep up with what to look out for at each stage, so please always ask us the question if you’re feeling unsure or concerned about anything to do with your little one’s feet or what they should be wearing on them. The answer is quite likely to help put your mind at ease.