Toe Walking: Doctor Attributes Toe Walking to Signs of Poor Vestibular
A little girl balances on her tip-toes. Given this simple sentence, most people will envision a little girl in a tutu, standing before a mirror and grasping a wooden bar. It's common to find a ballerina on her toes. It's also common to see very small children walking around on their tippy-toes, up until the age of three. But sometimes this is a tendency we see in kids over five and when that's the case, it's a sign that there may be something wrong.
Surprisingly, toe walking is not only a sign of a developmental delay in children; it is also a sign of a poor vestibular system, which is tied to a child's balance and coordination. You may be asking yourself why balance and coordination is important and why it has anything to do with learning. If a child's vestibular system isn't working properly, we begin to see symptoms, like toe walking, poor behavior or learning challenges in the classroom. These signs mean that your child may have a disconnection in the brain preventing them from learning. We often see some of these symptoms in children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Asperger's. However, there are several mainstream children that may struggle with toe walking and vestibular issues as well.
Dr. Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D., recently posted an article about toe walking that said, "Toe walking may be directly or indirectly related to a visual-vestibular problem."
If toe walking is an issue in your home or with your students, it's an instant trigger that tells us to look into larger learning issues with your child.
So now that we know toe walking could be a sign of a poor vestibular system, how do we know when it begins having an impact on our child's learning? Here are some of the signs you may find in the classroom:
- Needs glasses at a young age, typically between the ages of 3-6 (appears to be a vision problem).
- Often says "huh?" or "what?" as if they didn't hear the instructions the teacher is giving.
- Struggles to copy information from the chalkboard to their paper.
- Has trouble tracking words for reading and may have to blink to refocus their eyes on the page.
- Often feels unbalanced, is uncoordinated or runs into furniture or desks at school.
What Causes it?
Toe walking has a wide range of causes from the serious side all the way down to virtually harmless. Here are a few of the common causes for toe walking.
Dysfunctional Balance System
For some children who walk on their toes, their inner ear may be to blame. The vestibular system in the inner ear is responsible for feeding the brain information on position and movement. If the information this system is providing isn't correct, the brain may not even be aware that the feet aren't walking in the most effective way. These children can be helped with a range of movement therapies.
Sensory Processing Issues
A Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can also be to blame for walking on tip-toes. If your child is oversensitive to touch, they maybe avoiding placing their heels down to avoid uncomfortable textures or discomfort they experience at their weight against their heels. These kids will also show aversion to socks, shoes or bare feet. Tactile therapy is usually helpful for the kids in this group.
We'll leave off with one of the least alarming causes. Habit. If you have a tot that spend a lot of time on their toes, they may continue to walk that way simply because they're used to walking that way.