The natural history of idiopathic toe-walking: a long-term follow-up of fourteen conservatively treated children

Georg Hirsch, B Wagner
Acta Paediatrica 2004, 93 (2): 196-9

AIM: To determine the long-term results after conservative treatment (physiotherapy, casting, orthoses, or a combination of these) of idiopathic toe-walking (ITW).

METHODS: Tiptoe-walking is diagnosed as idiopathic (habitual) if no signs of neurological, orthopaedic, or psychiatric disease are detected. The diagnosis is one of exclusion. Sixteen former patients with ITW, all now at least 13 y old, were asked to participate in a follow-up investigation 7-21 y after being first diagnosed. Two cases were excluded because heel-cord lengthening had been performed later on in other hospitals. The remaining 14 patients completed a questionnaire. Eleven patients consented to a clinical examination, during which they were videotaped and their active and passive ankle-joint dorsiflexion measured. These data were compared with the assessment at the initial evaluation. In one instance, the toe-walking ceased after conservative treatment (plaster cast). In all other cases the toe-walking pattern recurred.

RESULTS: At follow-up three patients showed some toe-walking when they were unobtrusively observed. When videotaped, they did not toe-walk, although a distinct heel-strike was missing. The remaining eight patients all walked with a heel-strike. Two patients had slight symptoms possibly related to toe-walking. No fixed contracture was present at the first evaluation, and none was found at follow-up. There was no systematic change in ankle-joint dorsiflexion from initial assessment to follow-up examination.

CONCLUSION: Non-surgical treatment of ITW does not have a lasting effect and the long-term results in this study are considered to reflect the natural history, i.e. the toe-walking pattern eventually resolves spontaneously in the majority of children. Surgical treatment of ITW should be reserved for the few cases with a fixed ankle-joint contracture.

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