What is a Clubfoot?

Clubfoot causes children to be born with their feet curled inward or sharply downward rather than pointing forward as normal. This impairs their ability to walk, but it can be treated.

Sometimes the muscular tension is caused by another birth defect, such as cerebral palsy, or a serious degenerative condition like muscular dystrophy. Many causes have no clear cause, but avoiding smoking and drug use during pregnancy can lower the chances of the condition developing.

What are the Symptoms of a Clubfoot?

The curled and twisted appearance of an infant’s feet are the most obvious symptom of a clubfoot. In most subtle cases aren’t diagnosed doesn’t occur until later in life.

Symptoms include

  • A wobbling gait and difficulty learning to walk
  • Pain from wearing shoes or walking, especially later in life
  • Shorter legs on the affected side
  • Underdeveloped calf muscles

Clubfoot isn’t life-threatening or painful for children, but it does make it harder to walk as an adult and eventually becomes painful. It’s easier to treat in babies and toddlers than in children and adults.

Clubfoot Causes

The exact cause of clubfoot is unknown. There are risk factors, however, and it’s believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Risk factors for an infant to develop clubfoot include a variety of different things. Family history, for example, might mean that there are higher odds your infant will have a clubfoot. Clubfoot can also be a symptom of other disorders, including spina bifida, strokes, and cerebral palsy.

Environmental causes, combined with a family history of clubfoot, increase the risk of an infant being born with clubfoot. Smoking or using recreational drugs during pregnancy are examples of environmental causes that can cause clubfoot.

Additionally, if there is too little amniotic fluid, a child is more at-risk of being born with clubfoot. In addition, with too little liquid, a fetus can position itself awkwardly, in a way that might cause clubfoot.

How is a Clubfoot Treated?

Depending on how young the patient is when treatment begins, stretching and massage is often enough to straighten the feet without resorting to anything more serious.

Parents can learn one of many treatment protocols and stretch their children’s feet starting within the second week of life. By staying consistent with treatment, many cases of clubfoot are fixed at home. If the muscles can’t or won’t respond to the conservative treatments, surgery is necessary to realign the muscles and straighten foot alignment. Splinting and taping the feet can support straightening both before and after surgery, or even without it.

Clubfoot Prevention

Because there isn’t a known cause for clubfoot, there isn’t a known prevention for clubfoot. Limiting environmental risks during pregnancy will reduce the chance of your infant having a clubfoot.

Some treatments have a high success rate, especially when treatment is started early. Surgery is only required in extreme cases; most often, holding the foot in a healthy posture corrects the issue. Clubfoot can relapse – approximately 20% of cases relapse by the end of their third or fourth year. Splints and corrective braces may be required until the child is two or three years old to prevent the muscles from pulling the foot back out of proper alignment.

If the bone is abnormal, surgery may be required when the child is older. Fusing and stabilizing the bones can be performed when the child is at least ten years old. If the only thing that needs to be done is cut the bone, the surgery can be conducted when the child is five years old.

Last Reviewed:
September 19, 2016
Last Updated:
December 07, 2017