Is Your Child Walking On Their Toes? Understanding Achilles Tendon Surgery

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One of the physical indications of an autism spectrum disorder is the practice of toe walking. If you're not familiar with the term, it refers to the act of walking on the toes while the rest of the foot stays raised off the floor. Unfortunately, walking this way can cause the Achilles tendon to grow too short. Since the tendon stretches down the back of the heel from the calf muscle, underdevelopment can cause problems with walking properly. If your child spends too many years toe walking, you may find that he or she needs surgery to compensate for the poor growth of the tendon.

What Does The Surgery Entail?

The surgical procedure aims to lengthen the Achilles tendon to restore the proper range of motion in the foot. The surgeon may opt to loosen the tendon from the calf and then create nicks along the edges to stretch it while more severe cases may require that the tendon be completely removed, stretched and then replaced.

How Does Physical Therapy Start?

Once the surgery is finished, your child's leg will be placed in a cast from the base of the knee across the entire foot. Then, the pediatrician will recommend that physical therapy start right away to teach your child how to move around with the cast on. You'll need to be part of this therapy, because you'll have stretches and movements that you need to do with your child to help maintain some mobility during healing. Weight-bearing exercises and leg raises are important for maintaining strength and muscle tone.

What Kind Of Future Therapy Is Necessary?

After the cast is removed, your child's doctor will likely recommend more intense physical therapy. Some of the things that will be necessary include foot flexing to help stretch the tendon and the muscles around the ankle and some weight bearing exercises as well. Some kids will also need electrical stimulation therapy to encourage strength building.

Once the foot and ankle heal enough to support weight safely, the pediatrician will recommend that your child start walking therapy to learn the proper step so that he or she can walk heel-first. This part of the therapy cycle includes some detailed monitoring of the muscle movement and the alignment of your child's hip, leg and ankle. This helps to refine the muscle exercises and toning that's required during the rest of recovery.

Working with a pediatrician who understands toe walking and its effect on the Achilles tendon can help your child increase the chances of a successful recovery. Talk with your pediatric doctor today about how to proceed in terms of surgery and therapy.