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Clubfoot is a birth defect that causes a child’s foot to point inward instead of forward. The condition is normally identified after birth, but doctors can also tell if an unborn baby has clubfoot during an ultrasound. Although the condition usually affects only one foot, it’s possible for both feet to be affected.
Clubfoot can sometimes be corrected through stretching and bracing, but surgery may be necessary in severe cases.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, clubfoot occurs in one out of every 1,000 live births. For unknown reasons, clubfoot occurs more often in boys than in girls.
If your child has this condition, their foot will be turned sharply inward. This makes their heel look like it’s on the outside of their foot while their toes point inward toward their other foot. In severe cases, their foot may appear to be upside down.
Children with clubfoot wobble when they walk. They often walk on the outside of their affected foot to maintain balance.
Although clubfoot looks uncomfortable, it doesn’t cause pain or discomfort during childhood. However, children with clubfoot may experience pain later in life. Children with clubfoot may have a smaller calf on their affected leg. This leg may also be slightly shorter than their unaffected leg.
The exact cause of clubfoot is unknown, but doctors agree that a family history of clubfoot increases the likelihood that a child will be born with the condition. Also, mothers who smoke and drink during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with a clubfoot or clubfeet. Clubfoot may also occur as part of a congenital skeletal abnormality, such as spina bifida.
Your doctor can diagnose clubfoot by visually inspecting your newborn’s foot. They can also diagnose clubfoot in your unborn baby by using an ultrasound. Don’t assume that your child has clubfoot if their foot appears to be turned inward. Other deformities affecting their leg or the bones in their foot may also cause their foot to appear abnormal.
Two effective methods of treatment for clubfoot are stretching and surgery. Surgery is used in severe cases of clubfoot, and stretching is used as an early treatment method.
Shortly after birth and before your child can walk, your doctor will show you how to manipulate and stretch your child’s foot into alignment. You will need to stretch their foot daily to encourage it to remain in a normal position. This is done in very mild cases.
Another stretching technique is called the Ponseti method. The Ponseti method involves placing a cast on your child’s affected foot after stretching it into position. Your doctor will change the cast every few weeks or, in some cases, every week or every few days. This method will be repeated until your child’s clubfoot is corrected. The sooner this is started after birth, the better the results.
Another manipulation technique is called the French method. The French method involves applying adhesive tape to your child’s clubfoot, instead of using a cast. Your doctor will probably continue this treatment until your child is 6 months old.
If your child’s clubfoot is corrected using a stretching method, a splint or brace will be placed on their leg every night for up to three years to keep their foot in the corrected position.
If your child’s clubfoot doesn’t respond to manual manipulation or if it’s severe, surgery may be necessary to correct it. Surgery is done to correct the position of the following parts of their clubfoot and to bring it into alignment:
After surgery, your child will have to wear a brace for up to one year to keep their foot in the correct position.
Because the cause of clubfoot is unknown, there are no definite ways to prevent it from occurring. However, you can minimize the risk that your child will be born with a clubfoot by not smoking or drinking during your pregnancy.
Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Feb 22, 2016: William A Morrison MD
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