Treating Clubfoot, a Common Birth Defect
Clubfoot is one of the most common non-life threatening major birth defects. It affects your child’s foot and ankle, twisting the heel and toes inward. It may look like the top of the foot is on the bottom. The clubfoot, calf and leg are smaller and shorter than normal. Clubfoot is not painful, is correctable and your baby is probably otherwise normal.
Approximately one in every 1,000 newborns has clubfoot. Of those, one in three have both feet clubbed. The exact cause is unknown.
Two out of three clubfoot babies are boys. Clubfoot is twice as likely if you, your spouse or your other children also have it. Less severe infant foot problems are common and are often incorrectly called clubfoot.
The goal of treating clubfoot is to make your newborn’s clubfoot (or feet) functional, painless and stable by the time he or she is ready to walk. Doctors start by gently stretching your child’s clubfoot toward the correct position. They put on a cast to hold it in place. One week later, they take off the cast and stretch your baby’s foot a little more, always working it toward the correct position. They apply a new cast, and one week later you come back and do it again.
This process (called serial casting) slowly moves the bones in the clubfoot into proper alignment. Doctors use X-rays to check the progress. Casting generally repeats for 6-12 weeks, and may take up to four months. About half the time, your child’s clubfoot straightens with casting. If it does, he or she will be fitted with special shoes or braces to keep the foot straight once corrected. These holding devices are usually needed until your child has been walking for up to a year or more.
Muscles often try to return to the clubfoot position. This is common when your child is 2-3 years old, but may continue up to age 7. Sometimes stretching, casting and bracing is not enough to correct your baby’s clubfoot. He or she may need surgery to adjust the tendons, ligaments and joints in the foot/ankle.