Clubfoot is congenital birth defect in which the foot or feet of a newborn child are in an abnormal position. According to the March of Dimes, one out of every 1,000 infants born in the United States is affected by this birth defect, making this condition one of the most common birth defects. Treatments include stretching and casting the foot or clubfoot surgery.
In some cases, clubfoot surgery may be required. Sometimes, the clubfoot surgery involved is a minor surgery to release an Achilles tendon that is too tight. Clubfoot surgery can be more complex if the clubfoot is severe.
Children usually have clubfoot surgery when they are nine to 12 months old. In extremely severe cases, a child may undergo clubfoot surgery when the baby is only three months old. In addition, if a clubfoot returns, a child may have to have surgery.
Prognosis for children with clubfoot is generally good. Some children will have normal appearances and a normal walk. The appearance of the foot and the ability to walk will improve for those children who have severe clubfoot even if the damage cannot be completely fixed.
Scientists are unsure of the causes of clubfoot. Some suspect that there may be a genetic factor involved. Boys are born with clubfoot about twice as often as girls.
The symptoms of clubfoot can range from mild to severe. In addition to having a turned foot or feet, one foot might be smaller than the other and the calf muscles in the leg or legs may be underdeveloped or smaller than normal. Clubfoot in and of itself is not painful. It does not pose a developmental problem to a child until the child starts to walk.
When left untreated, those with clubfoot may have limited mobility and walk with an awkward appearance. In addition, people with clubfoot often develop arthritis. The calf muscles involved may also not grow properly.
In some cases, clubfoot can be diagnosed before birth during a scheduled ultrasound, although treatment cannot begin until after the infant is born. Most clubfoot cases are recognized at birth. Doctors may then order x-rays to determine how severely the bones involved are affected.
Fortunately, newborn's bones are soft and flexible. This means that children with clubfoot can often start to receive treatment shortly after birth. One of the ways that infants are treated is through the Ponseti method.
The Ponseti method, developed by Dr. Ignacio Ponseti in the 1940s, involves weekly stretching and casting of the foot to bring the foot back to the appropriate place. Treatments continue in this manner for five to ten weeks. After the foot is in the correct place, the child wears a brace for several months. Then the child may have to wear the brace for a couple of years during naps or when sleeping at night to prevent the foot from moving out of place.