Idiopathic Toe-Walking: Prevalence and Natural History from Birth to Ten Years of Age

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Abstract

Background:

Children with idiopathic toe-walking, a common pediatric condition, walk some or all of the time on their toes. This condition often causes parental concern, with repeated medical contacts and a range of interventions including stretching, casts, injection of botulinum toxin A, and surgical procedures. The purpose of this cohort study was to document the natural history of this condition.

Methods:

In a population-based cohort of 1,401 healthy 5.5-year-old Swedish children, we found the prevalence of idiopathic toe-walking to be approximately 5% (63 of 1,401). Of the 63 children who had ever been a toe-walker, 26 still were at the age of 5.5 years and were followed in the current study at 8 and 10 years of age. At the 8-year follow-up, parents were asked by telephone whether their child had received any treatment or diagnosis since the 5.5-year assessment, as well as to what extent (approximately 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% of the time) the child still walked on the toes. At the visit when the children were 10 years of age, their parents were asked the same questions. All 26 children also underwent a neurological examination and an orthopaedic examination focusing on the lower extremities.

Results:

At 8 years of age, 6 of 26 children had ceased toe-walking, and by the age of 10 years, 50 (79%) of the original 63 patients had spontaneously ceased toe-walking. Idiopathic toe-walking did not result in contractures of the triceps surae. One subgroup of children displayed early contracture of the ankle and should thus not be considered idiopathic toe-walkers. Four of the children who still toe-walked at the age of 10 years demonstrated some neurodevelopmental comorbidity.

Conclusions:

By the age of 10 years, 79% of the children who have ever been a toe-walker spontaneously develop a typical gait, without intervention or contractures of the ankle dorsiflexion. The diagnosis of short tendo Achilles should be retained as a separate diagnosis as there is a subset of children with this entity who should be treated early in childhood. Neurodevelopmental comorbidities are common among those who continue to toe-walk.

Level of Evidence:

Prognostic Level I. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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