What is Club Foot?

Jessica Ellis

Club foot is a birth defect that affects the shape of the feet. Babies suffering from the condition, which is also called talipes equinovarus or TEV, will appear to have deformed feet that dramatically curl inward. Club foot is often treated through non-surgical procedures, although it may take several years to reform the legs and feet completely.

If a sibling was born with a club foot, a baby is at an increased risk of the condition.
If a sibling was born with a club foot, a baby is at an increased risk of the condition.

The condition can be present in one or both feet, and has several distinct characteristics. Feet will be turned severely inwards, so that the soles of the feet face one another and the outer edge of the foot faces down. If the condition is in one foot only, the affected leg will usually be weaker, shorter and less developed. People with untreated club foot often walk on the sides of their feet, and may suffer balance issues and walking disabilities.

Babies may suffer from club foot, causing their foot to curl inward.
Babies may suffer from club foot, causing their foot to curl inward.

The cause of TEV remains unknown, yet certain factors may make a child more likely to be born with the defect. If a sibling or parent suffered from the condition, an infant is more likely to have it as well. Some genetic disorders, such as Edwards Syndrome, are also potentially responsible for the appearance of TEV. The condition typically appears after the 9th week of pregnancy and may, if not always, be detected through sonograms.

Club foot is often present in conjunction with other congenital deformities, including dwarfism.
Club foot is often present in conjunction with other congenital deformities, including dwarfism.

Treatment for club foot is often non-surgical in nature, and takes place over several weeks, months, or even years. In the 1940s, Dr. Ignacio Ponseti developed a gradual reshaping method for TEV that is now one of the most commonly used treatments. The Ponseti method involves careful stretching of the feet followed by casts that hold them in place. The casts are changed every few weeks, each time further correcting the position of the feet. Following the initial cast treatment, braces are worn on the legs during the night for the next few years to prevent relapse.

In some cases, minor surgery may be necessary to treat club foot.
In some cases, minor surgery may be necessary to treat club foot.

In some rare cases, the bones and tendons are too stiff to be molded through the Ponseti method or similar techniques. In this instance, minor surgery may be required. The most common type of surgery to treat club food is a clipping of the heel to release the tendons. Other cases may require a surgery that moves the main tendon away from the first toe and toward the middle of the foot. After surgery, correction through stretching and casts will usually still be necessary to permanently fix the condition.

A cast will often be necessary at some point while being treated for club foot.
A cast will often be necessary at some point while being treated for club foot.

Although it may be frightening for parents to see their newborn infant with club foot, the defect is easily treatable. Most children who have undergone the proper treatment for TEV regain correct foot position and total function of the feet and legs. Although the affected foot may remain somewhat smaller and slightly weaker despite correction, a child treated for the condition will most likely be able to walk, run and play normally.

A club foot typically appears after the 9th week of pregnancy and may, if not always, be detected through sonograms.
A club foot typically appears after the 9th week of pregnancy and may, if not always, be detected through sonograms.

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