Does your preschooler sometimes cry out in pain for no apparent reason, clutching his foot?

You then massage it for 15 minutes while your child is still whimpering in pain, but eventually the cramping subsides. 3 year old

Odd thing though, the three or four year old runs around outside without a problem, and never complains of a hurting foot in the middle of walking somewhere.

The foot pain comes on only after the child has been seated for a while, maybe while playing with a toy or watching TV – completely at rest. Then suddenly he begins crying in pain, rubbing at his foot.

This is an ongoing problem, too, with no history of foot injury or sprained ankle. What could this be? What should you do? 4 years old

“Pain in the foot at rest suggests this is not a musculoskeletal problem,” says Irene Tien, MD, a board-certified pediatric ER physician who can be reached at My Doctor Friend.

When it comes to foot pain or muscle cramping at rest in a preschooler, “then the child needs to be seen by a doctor to better characterize the problem. Possibly a neurologic issue.”

If a general pediatrician is unable to pinpoint the problem, then head for a pediatric neurologist. At least you’ll have peace of mind if a neurological cause is ruled out. age 3 or 4

“If your pediatrician is unable to pinpoint the problem, discuss with him/her what the next step should be,” says Dr. Tien. “Most commonly this will not indicate a serious problem.”

The parent may be tempted to disbelieve that ordinary childhood play could injure a preschooler’s foot.

But Dr. Tien explains, “Sometimes kids can injure themselves and even break their foot simply from play. The fact that they don’t work out like adults does not mean they cannot seriously injure themselves.”

A serious foot injury, however, is likely to manifest itself during activity rather than only at rest.

Do not let the fact that the foot cramps never occur during playtime to delude you into thinking that the problem does not warrant an investigation.

A pediatric podiatrist (foot specialist) is also an option as far as uncovering the diagnosis.

Occasional complaints of foot pain are one thing, but a recurring issue that brings the preschooler to tears needs a diagnosis and treatment plan.

In practice for 20+ years, Dr. Tien is a leading medical voice on social media, providing the public with accurate information to empower them to live their healthiest life.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  

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