Many parents report that their child’s feet appear “flat” when they stand, walk, or run. Your Physical Therapist may tell you that your child’s feet are “pronated”, which refers to greater weight-bearing on the insides of the feet. This is more common than you’d expect, especially when the child presents with low muscle tone (“softer” muscles with decreased resistance to passive stretch). Arches of the feet usually do not fully develop until a child is closer to 6 years old. Once a baby learns to walk, they begin to strengthen the “intrinsic” muscles inside their feet, those tiny little muscles that, once stronger, assist to lift into an arch. This is mainly achieved through repeated practice with walking over uneven surfaces (grass, sand, gravel, mulch, hills, etc.), which is why trips to the park or playground are extremely helpful during those early walking months!
If your child continues to present with over-pronated feet beyond what is expected/ outside normal limits for their age, you may want to have them assessed by a PT. This is especially true if they experience pain in their feet or if they are delayed in their overall gross motor skills. The exercises listed below can help your child if they have “flat feet” by assisting with the development of stronger, more supportive arches (medial longitudinal arches). These exercises can help supplement the use of orthotics, if your child is a candidate for this type of support. Also, keep in mind that arches usually do not fully develop until closer to 6 years of age.
These exercises specifically target the smaller muscles of the feet. Your child may also benefit from additional exercises that target their balance, core strength, and ankle strength. Please keep in mind that if your child is experiencing pain in their feet on a regular basis with physical activity, they may require a more individualized treatment plan to target these other areas. Always consult with your pediatrician or physical therapist first!
Sock or Scarf “Scrunches”:
Have your child seated in a chair, with feet in contact with the floor, and with shoes and socks off. Place a light-weight scarf, sock, or towel on the floor in front of them and ask them to use their toes to scrunch the sock up toward the chair. You can also have them flex their toes to completely pick up the scarf/sock/towel and drop it into a laundry bin as the “goal”. This helps to strengthen the smaller muscles of the foot which help with the development of arches. You can also try this with feathers or pieces of ribbon!
Similar to the scarf scrunches, while seated in a chair with socks off, have your child use their feet and toes to pick up marbles or small coins/ game chips from a board game and drop them into a cup. The heavier items offer a greater challenge, but also allow for some tactile feedback.
DynaDisc/ Balance Pod:
Dyna discs are a great tool for working on static balance, tactile input, and arch strength. If you don’t have one at home, you can try using a partially deflated beach ball. Have your child stand with both feet on the disc while playing a game of catch. If their balance is more advanced, try asking them to balance on one foot at a time while on the disc. It is best to try these tasks barefoot in order to allow tactile input. The Dynadisc works great for sensory input because it offers a smooth as well as a “bumpy”/ “tactile” side for added input to “wake up” the muscles of the foot!
In the summer time/ warmer weather, you can try this one outdoors! Grab some cheap sponges (try the dollar store!), fill them with water, and have your child use their feet and toes to pick up the sponge and squeeze the water out into a bucket! Again, this strengthens the smaller (intrinsic) muscles of the foot. It also allows for sensory input and feedback.
If your child is already receiving Occupational Therapy or if he/she is familiar with “sensory bins”, you can create additional sensory bins for increasing tactile input to the soles of their feet. Beans, rice, water beads, kinestic sand, marbles, or tissue paper can be used to fill the bins. As your child places their feet inside, you can encourage them to pick up hidden objects or small plastic toys from inside the bin, using only their toes (no hands!). In this way, their bare feet gain exposure to a variety of new textures, and their “arch muscles” can become stronger while they use their feet to search for hidden toys to pick up with their toes. They will also gain ankle strength to lift and clear their toes while stepping between each bin. Brief single leg stance is also utilized in this activity- great for working on static balance skills!