Toe walking can be observed during a physical exam. In some cases, the doctor may do a gait analysis or an exam known as electromyography (EMG).
During an EMG, a thin needle with an electrode is inserted into a muscle in the leg. The electrode measures the electrical activity in the affected nerve or muscle.
If the doctor suspects a condition such as cerebral palsy or autism, he or she may recommend a neurological exam or testing for developmental delays.
If your child is toe walking out of habit, treatment isn't needed. He or she is likely to outgrow the habit. Your doctor might simply monitor your child's gait during office visits.
If a physical problem is contributing to toe walking, treatment options might include:
- Physical therapy. Gentle stretching of the leg and foot muscles might improve your child's gait.
- Leg braces or splints. Sometimes these help promote a normal gait.
- Serial casting. If physical therapy or leg braces aren't helpful, your doctor might suggest trying a series of below-the-knee casts to progressively improve the ability to bring the toes toward the shin.
- OnabotulinumtoxinA. Injections into the calf muscles are sometimes used to help promote a normal gait.
- Surgery. If conservative treatments fail, the doctor might recommend surgery to lengthen the muscles or tendons at the back of the lower leg.
If the toe walking is associated with cerebral palsy, autism or other problems, treatment focuses on the underlying condition.
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first bring your concerns to the attention of your primary care provider — family doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or pediatrician. He or she might refer you to a doctor specializing in nerve function (neurologist) or orthopedic surgery.
What you can do
Before your appointment, you might want to write a list of questions for the doctor, including:
- What could be causing toe walking in my child?
- What tests are needed, if any?
- What treatments do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask some of the following questions:
- Does your child have other medical problems?
- Do you have a family history of muscular dystrophy or autism?
- Was your child born prematurely?
- Were there complications with the child's birth or during the hospital nursery stay?
- Did your child first walk flat-footed, then start toe walking?
- Can your child walk on his or her heels if you ask?
- Does your child avoid eye contact or exhibit repetitive behaviors such as rocking or spinning?
April 26, 2018
- Haynes KB, et al. Toe walking: A neurological perspective after referral from pediatric orthopaedic surgeons. Journal of Pediatric Orthpaedics. In press. Accessed Jan. 22, 2018.
- Van Kuijk AAA, et al. Treatment of idiopathic toe walking: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine. 2014;46:945.
- Szopa A, et al. Effect of a nonsurgical treatment program on the gait pattern of idiopathic toe walking: A case report. Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management. 2016;12:139.
- Sätilä H, et al. Does botulinum toxin A treatment enhance the walking pattern in idiopathic toe-walking? Neuropediatrics. 2016;47:162.
- Williams CM, et al. Do external stimuli impact the gait of children with idiopathic toe walking? A study protocol for a within-subject randomised control trial. BMJ Open. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/3/e002389. Jan. 22, 2018.