Toe Walking: Everything You Need To Know

Your baby has started walking and wait, why are they walking on their toes? While this could be cute at first, it’s not something they should do for a long period of time. In fact, prolonged toe walking can lead to tight heel cords and low back pain. Toe walking under 50% of the time is okay. However, anything more than that is not typical and could indicate sensory sensitivities. On average, toe walking is a skill that emerges around 30 months.

So what do you do if your baby is toe walking? Keep reading to see how toe walking could affect your child and how you can help!

baby standing in crib

“Why does my baby stand on their toes before they can walk or stand independently?”

This is a very common question for parents. They are holding their baby up and they automatically go onto their tip toes, but why?

The number one reason babies stand on their toes is to find stability when they are standing. If they aren’t standing or walking independently, they are 9/10 times going up on their toes to feel more stable. This is especially true for babies less than 6 months or so. You see, they don’t have the strength or joint stability for prolonged periods of time standing. They are trying their best to protect their joints and recruit stability to make up for the lack of strength.

If you’re noticing that your baby is consistently standing on their toes while you’re supporting them in a standing position (for a baby not yet standing), this might be an indication to take a break from this activity! Muscles create a memory (aka muscle memory) as a way to make movement patterns more automatic in the brain. 

For example, you probably don’t think about how to walk anymore because it becomes an automatic pattern in your brain. We want to avoid your baby creating this muscle memory for being up on their toes. If they do it every now and then, it likely won’t cause a dramatic issue later, but why risk it? Try giving your baby more support or support in a different area (under the arms versus the hips, etc) and see if that helps the baby get flat feet. If not, try again in a few weeks.

baby standing on toes while leaning on shelf

“Why is my baby standing on their toes while pulling up or cruising?”

This is also a common question for parents of babies and toddlers and thankfully the answer is pretty simple. If your baby is up on their toes while cruising, try lowering the surface they are cruising on. Again, they are likely seeking out stability.

By pulling the couch cushions off of the couch, you bring the surface down lower giving them a lot more stability. Aim for the support surface to be somewhere between their belly button and nipple level. 

This high is ideal to help the baby stand upright and still have plenty of support. Again, remember that most of the time tip toe standing or walking is due to your little one seeking out stability. So, if the support surface is too low, your baby might go up on their toes to get better leverage from the surface.

“Why is my baby walking on their toes during supported walking?”

If your baby is going up on their ties while using a push walker, try weighing the push walker down. You can use ankle weights, books, canned goods, or something like that. Take a look at my push walker highlight on Instagram to get more pictures and ideas. If the walker is going too fast, it can cause the baby to go on its toes for… you guessed it, stability.

If your baby is going up on their toes while you’re holding your baby’s hands to walk, try some of these ideas:

  • Lower your hands down to below their shoulders
  • Slow down or wait until your baby is more ready to walk with hands held

Sometimes we try to do this supported walking before our babies are completely ready, and it can cause toe walking because they are looking for stability (you knew I was going to say it that time, right?).

baby on toes

“Why is my baby toe walking as a new walker?”

I know you don’t remember this, we never do, but walking is a hard skill to learn! It takes a lot of coordination, strength, balance, and a lot of motor planning. It can take several months to really figure out what to do with your body when you start walking, and sometimes new walkers will show some walking up on their toes. I like to give babies two to three months of independent walking before I really start to look at anything funky with their feet, like turning in, turning out, and toe walking. If toe walking does persist after a few months then you can start a conversation with your child’s doctor. 

Do you want me to take a look at your little one’s walking first? Feel free to ask a question here. For $45, you can ask a question, send in a video, and get a video response from me. I will include tips and tricks to use with your little one! Just remember, I cannot diagnose them or give any medical advice. Only your child’s doctor can do that.

child standing on their toes

“Why is my child toe walking?”

I’m going to be honest here, toe walking is a tricky, complicated thing! It’s a hard topic to break down without seeing your child for myself. There can be so many different reasons your child is walking on their toes. But, there are some things I would like to share.

Toe Walking for an Experienced Walker

First, toe walking for an experienced walker (more than a few months) is not a typical walking pattern. If an experienced walker is on their toes for more than 60% of the time, there is a reason and the child should be evaluated by a physical therapist. It doesn’t matter if your child can stand with flat feet or not, you should still touch base with a doctor.

It’s also important to note that if your child is consistently walking on their toes, they will not grow out of it. Prolonged toe walking will create (or increase) muscle tightness in the calves, hamstrings, and lower back. The earlier you can address this walking pattern, the better. 

Toe walking can start for many different reasons, including their need for stability, muscle tightness, muscle weakness or imbalance, flat feet, or sensory preferences. Regardless of the cause, it all resents the same and can ultimately contribute to tight muscles on the back of the body and cause weakness in the front due to a decreased use of their quads, belly, etc. Tip Toe walking alters your child’s center of gravity and typically toe walkers will develop a huge arch in their lower back to keep them from falling forward.

Toe Walking is a Developmental Skill

Now, toe walking is also a developmental skill, confusing right? Sometimes between the ages of 2.5 and 3 years old, your child will learn the skill of being able to walk on their toes. This is completely normal and necessary for their development. It’s not a cause for concern for kids to experiment with toe walking after learning that skill. However, it becomes a consistent pattern (more than 60% of the time), then we get concerned and seek to intervene. 

Ellie, my daughter, went through a period at around 2.5 where she walk walking on her toes A LOT. I used some of my favorite strategies and gave her a cue to “look at her feet” a lot. That shifted her weight forward enough that she had to put her feet flat to keep them from falling over.

Thankfully, a physical therapist can fully assess your baby and find the root cause of their toe walking and any tightness or weakness that is related to it. They will then work with them on creating balance in their muscle strength and help them create stability and balance with their flat feet. I cannot stress this enough, if you have a consistent toe walker, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a local physical therapist. I promise it’s worth it.

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