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Does my child need orthotics?

Dr Brenden Brown

Orthotics can be a great way to help a child rebalance and reshape their feet. But how do you know if your child needs orthotics?

Three happy young children wearing school uniforms
Three happy young children wearing school uniforms

They’re off! Your child has mastered the art of walking and before you know it, you can’t keep up with them. But what happens when usually active kids start to complain of pain in their feet and legs? Or when a child stumbles a lot or struggles to really hit their stride?

The foot is a pretty complex structure – it’s made up of 26 bones and 35 joints. If you’re worried there might be an issue with your child’s foot or the way they walk, it could be that they need kids’ orthotics.

What are orthotics?

Orthotics are shoe inserts that support the foot and help correct any problems.

“Kids might need orthotics when they’ve got some sort of foot posture issue that’s also leading to pain or other problems that affect the way that they walk or run,” says podiatrist Brenden Brown.

Caregiver helping young child put on her shoes

Does your child need orthotics?

Brenden says there are some key signs he investigates with parents when considering
orthotics for kids. 

Trips and falls

“One of the first things we’ll ask the parent is if they think their little one trips or falls more than their peers or kids in the same age range,” he says. “If they do, something might be up.”

Pain on a regular basis

Brenden will also ask parents if the child has been experiencing pain. But what about growing pains? How can parents tell the difference?

“It is normal for kids to be uncomfortable every now and then,” Brenden notes. “But if a child wakes at night once every couple of weeks or more, and is crying with pain and rubbing their legs, then that pain is frequent enough to be investigated.”

Avoiding activity

Children experiencing problems with their feet – including those who are too young to
adequately describe what feels wrong to their parents – may become inactive or reluctant to be active, Brenden says.

“We’ll ask the parent if their child has been in the stroller longer than they had expected or if the child wants to be in the stroller all the time,” he explains. “Or does the child always want to be picked up? And when they take them out on a picnic or out with friends to play, does their child spend that time just sitting down?”

Related: Is your child developing bad posture? Here’s what to do

Foot postural problems

Podiatrists will check the child’s feet for physical signs that can lead to children falling over more, including severe in-toeing (where the feet turn inwards) or out-toeing (where the feet turn outwards), as well as any abnormal bone deviations.

What about flat feet? It was once common to assume everyone with flat feet needed orthotics but this is no longer the case, Brenden says. Flat feet in infants and young children is normal until they’re about six years old, by which time their arches have developed.

It was once common to assume everyone with flat feet needed orthotics but this is no longer the case.

However, Brenden says orthotics for kids may be necessary if the child has flat feet combined with another risk factor – such as frequently tripping and falling, avoiding activity or experiencing pain.

How are orthotics fitted?

While you can buy off-the-shelf orthotics, a podiatrist can make custom-built orthotics based on an impression or mould of your child’s foot. These processes are painless and are usually done through a 3D scan or a plaster cast (which is removed after about 10 minutes when the plaster is hard enough to dry).

Related: What Extras benefits can I get with nib?

What’s the right age to get kids’ orthotics?

In almost all cases, very young children who aren’t yet walking or haven’t been walking
unassisted for at least 12 months won’t need orthotics, Brenden says.

“But there is no magic age to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to orthotics,” he notes. “If there’s treatment available, I’ll recommend that as much as I can rather than telling a child to stop physical activity. To me that’s not a reasonable thing to do.”

At nib, you can get Extras cover that includes benefits for podiatry and orthotics*. If you’re already an nib member, you can check your current policy using member account. Alternatively, you can get a quote online in just minutes.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. 

Dr Brenden Brown

Dr Brenden Brown

Dr Brenden Brown

Dr Brenden Brown describes himself as “not your typical podiatrist”. His infectious enthusiasm and zest for life leave an impression on his patients and the many journalists he’s been interviewed by. Brenden lives in Sydney where he manages A Step Ahead Foot and Ankle Care, a clinic helping people with foot and lower limb pain, and has a policy of only hiring people smarter than himself. He used to be an abseiling instructor – which is how he met his wife – and is also a trained Lifeline crisis counsellor, volunteering for the organisation regularly.