Few baby milestones are as exciting as the moment you realize your little one is officially on the move. But sometimes toddlers don't start off walking normally. If you're concerned about why your child walks on their toes, you're definitely not alone: many parents get anxious when they realize that their toddler is doing something that doesn't seem like the norm. I mean, tiptoeing like a ballerina feels strange, right? But is toe walking something you need to stress over, or is this just a typical part of development?
Experts say it's nothing to be concerned about, at least in the beginning. Dr. Natalie Geary, licensed pediatric and family doctor, tells Romper, "Toe walking is fairly common in children who are just starting to walk, and most of them outgrow it. If a child is growing and developing normally, toe walking is usually not cause for concern."
Dr. Celanie K. Christensen, neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health, echoes that statement to Romper. "Many children walk on their toes as they are learning to walk and it is considered normal until the age of 2 to 3 years old," she says. "Most children stop toe walking by the age of 3 years. If a child continues to toe walk after 3 year of age, 50% of those children will stop by the age of 5 ½." In other words: don't be surprised if, in the first few years of their life, your child is walking on the balls of their feet instead of using their entire foot.
But what if it goes beyond the ages of 2 or 3? Christensen says that 5% of children continue to walk on their toes after the toddler years — something that is referred to as idiopathic toe walking — but she says experts aren't sure why. "Some people think it's a habit or related to a sensory issue, but the true cause is not known definitively."
While toe walking is no big deal and is even considered normal throughout the toddler years, idiopathic toe walking may be cause for concern. "There are some neurologic conditions that cause toe walking, or are associated with toe walking," Christensen says. This can include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal cord problems, developmental delays, and autism. "If a child continues to walk on his or her toes after the toddler years, or has other developmental or neurologic concerns, they should be evaluated by their physician," Christensen adds. Don't panic until you talk to your doctor, though.
In the meantime, you might be wondering if there's anything you can do about toe walking at home. Since idiopathic toe walking doesn't have any known causes, it's not something you can actively work to prevent. You can try to teach your child good walking habits, though. "I always tell my families two things: encourage your child to relax — relax the fists and flex and point the feet, starting when they are infants," Geary says. "Infant massage of the feet and hands is important to enable the infant to stretch certain muscles that can get very tight."
Her other pro tip? "When a child is learning to walk, be sure to keep them in firm shoes for at least 30% of the time." Geary says that stiff, supportive shoes are ideal for arch support and stability, and make it more difficult for them to walk on their toes — that means they're less likely to get into that habit.
So, here's what you need to remember: if your child is under the age of 2 or 3 and is walking on their toes, it's probably completely normal, and just part of their development, or maybe even a habit. If they continue walking on their toes after the toddler years, it's something to bring up with your pediatrician. They know your child and can perform the tests needed to give an accurate diagnosis.