Kids and Their Feet: Keeping Both Happy

Common foot problems among children and adolescents include plantar warts, flat feet, sports injuries, bunions, and heel pain.

Childhood is full of unexpected illnesses. It is common for parents to take their children to the pediatrician for ear aches, runny noses, and stomach aches. Parents are excellent at taking notice of childhood milestones, such as first tooth, first word, and first steps. However, a commonly overlooked area of the body that should also be watched closely is the feet, according to Hampton Roads podiatrist Dr. Matthew Dairman, Fellow and Spokesperson for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

Dairman treats a large pediatric population and says ingrown toenails are a very common complaint. He blames tight shoes, tight socks and incorrect nail trimming for most cases. In other cases, children may inherit the tendency for nails to curve. “Many kids hide their ingrown toenails from their parents, even though the condition can cause significant pain,” according to Dairman. “Over time, the nail may break the skin and lead to bad infections.”

The only proper way to treat a child’s ingrown toenail is with a minor surgical procedure at a podiatrist’s office. During the short procedure, the foot and ankle surgeon numbs the toe and removes the offending portion of the nail. In some cases of infection an antibiotic may be prescribed. Various techniques can permanently remove part of a nail’s root too, preventing it from growing back. Most children experience very little pain afterwards, and can resume normal activity the next day.

According to Dairman and the ACFAS, parents can help prevent ingrown nails by following a few simple tips.

Teach children how to trim their toenails properly. Trim toenails in a fairly straight line, and don’t cut them too short.

Make sure children’s shoes fit. Check your child’s shoe size often. Shoe width is as important as length. Make sure that the widest part of the shoe matches the widest part of your child’s foot.

Don’t let your child wear hand-me-down shoes. Because most shoes mold to the foot, wearing hand-me-downs can affect the shape of your child’s feet.

If a child develops a painful ingrown toenail, parents can reduce the inflammation by soaking the child’s foot in room-temperature water and gently massaging the side of the nail fold.

Parents should never try to dig the nail out or cut it off. These dangerous “bathroom surgeries” carry a high risk for infection.

Other common foot problems among children and adolescents include plantar warts, flat feet, sports injuries, bunions, and heel pain. If your child’s feet grow correctly and stay healthy, foot problems are less likely later in life. Dairman states, “If you have young children it is a good idea to observe them closely while they walk and play. If your child falls frequently or is hesitant to run and keep up with their friends during play, it could be due to problems with their feet and evaluation from a podiatrist is recommended.”

For more information on ingrown toenails or other foot and ankle conditions, visit the ACFAS Web site, Dr. Dairman can be contacted at 757-384-6611 or