Parenting is a lot like medicine. Parents seek to “fix” their children, and physicians seek to “fix” their patients. However, sometimes the best “fix” is to observe closely, do nothing, and let nature take its course. That’s the main conclusion of the study by Engstrom et al. in the April 18, 2018 edition of JBJS. The authors set out to document the natural history of idiopathic toe-walking to determine how often the condition resolves without intervention.
After analyzing a cohort of more than 1,400 children, the authors found that 63 (5%) had been toe-walkers at some point as a toddler—but that almost 80% of those children spontaneously ceased being toe-walkers by the time they were 10 years of age. However, the authors found that children with ankle contractures before age 5 were unlikely to spontaneously cease toe-walking and would benefit from early surgical intervention. This study also demonstrated a correlation between neurodevelopmental comorbidities and toe-walking. Although 4 of the 8 children who still toe-walked at 10 years of age had received a neurodevelopmental diagnosis between the ages of 5.5 and 10 years, the authors state that “even in this subgroup of children, the idiopathic toe-walking seems, for the majority of children, to be a transient condition.”
Taken as a whole, this Level-I prognostic study provides relatively clear treatment pathways for clinicians and parents to follow when a child presents with toe-walking. The findings can be used to help calm the fears of parents regarding their child’s development while also giving surgeons the confidence to treat the majority of these children with observation unless there is a contracture of the calf musculature.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media