Clubfoot describes a range of foot abnormalities usually present at birth (congenital) in which your baby’s foot is twisted out of shape or position. In clubfoot, the tissues connecting the muscles to the bone (tendons) are shorter than usual. Clubfoot is a fairly common birth defect.
Clubfoot can be mild or severe. Most babies who are born with clubfoot are healthy in all other ways; about 1 in 3 of them have it in both feet.
Clubfoot doesn’t cause pain, but if it’s not treated, it can make it hard for a child to walk without a limp. It’s easy to correct in most cases, so most children don’t have long-lasting effects. Doctors generally recommend treating it soon after birth.
Doctors are usually able to treat clubfoot successfully without surgery, though sometimes children need follow-up surgery later on.
If your child has clubfoot, here’s what it might look like:
- The top of the foot is usually twisted downward and inward, increasing the arch and turning the heel inward.
- The foot may be turned so severely that it actually looks as if it’s upside down.
- The affected leg or the foot may be smaller than a normal foot by up to a half-inch.
- The calf muscles in the affected leg are usually underdeveloped.
- The foot may have a limited range of motion.
- Despite its look, clubfoot itself doesn’t cause any discomfort or pain.
Most doctors can spot clubfoot simply by looking at your baby when he or she is born. If you have an ultrasound done late in your pregnancy, your doctor may notice it then.
The cause of clubfoot is unknown (idiopathic), but it may be a combination of several factors.
There are many hypotheses about how clubfoot develops. Some hypothesis include: environmental factors, genetics, or a combination of both. Research has not yet pinpointed the root cause, but many findings agree that “it is likely there is more than one different cause and at least in some cases the phenotype may occur as a result of a threshold effect of different factors acting together.
Some researchers hypothesize, from the early development stages of humans, that clubfoot is formed by a malfunction during gestation. Early amniocentesis (11–13 wks) is believed to increase the rate of clubfoot because there is an increase in potential amniotic leakage from the procedure. Underdevelopment of the bones and muscles of the embryonic foot may be another underlying cause. In the early 1900s, it was thought that constriction of the foot by the uterus contributed to the occurrence of clubfoot.
Underdevelopment of the bones also affects the muscles and tissues of the foot. Abnormality in the connective tissue causes “the presence of increased fibrous tissue in muscles, fascia, ligaments and tendon sheaths”.
Mutations in genes involved in muscle development are risk factors for clubfoot, specifically those encoding the muscle contractile complex (MYH3, TPM2, TNNT3, TNNI2 and MYH8). These can cause congenital contractures, including clubfoot, in distal arthrogryposis (DA) syndromes. Clubfoot can also be present in people with genetic conditions such as Loeys–Dietz syndrome.
Genetic mapping and the development of models of the disease have improved understanding of developmental processes. Its inheritance pattern is explained as a heterogenous disorder using a polygenic threshold model. The PITX1-TBX4 transcriptional pathway has become key to the study of clubfoot. PITX1 and TBX4 are uniquely expressed in the hind limb.
- Gender. Two-thirds of babies with clubfoot are male.
- Family history. Babies with a parent or sibling who had clubfoot are twice as likely to get it.
- Lifestyle choices. If you smoke or use illegal drugs while you’re pregnant, you raise your baby’s chances of being born with it.
- Other birth defects. In some cases, it’s linked with other another condition a baby is born with, such as spina bifida.
- Environment. Smoking during pregnancy can significantly increase the baby’s risk of clubfoot
Too little amniotic fluid during pregnancy. This surrounds your baby in the womb. If there’s not enough, your baby’s chances of being born with clubfoot are higher.
Diagnosis of clubfoot deformity is by physical examination. Typically, a newborn is examined shortly after delivery with a head to toe assessment. Examination of the lower extremity and foot reveals the deformity, which may affect one or both feet. Examination of the foot shows four components of deformity.
- First, there is a higher arch on the inside of the foot. This component of the deformity can occur without the other aspects of clubfoot deformity. In isolation, this aspect of the deformity is called cavus deformity.
- Second, the forefoot is curved inward or medially (toward the big toe). This component of the deformity can occur without the other aspects of clubfoot deformity. In isolation, this aspect of the deformity is called metatarsus adductus.
- Third, the heel is turned inward. This is a natural motion of the heel and subtalar joint, typically referred to as inversion. In clubfoot deformity, the turning in (inversion) of the heel is fixed (not passively correctable) and considered a varus deformity.
- Fourth, and finally, the ankle is pointed downward. This is a natural motion of the ankle referred to as plantar flexion. In clubfoot deformity, this position is fixed (not correctable) and is referred to as equinus deformity.
A foot that shows all four components is diagnosed as having clubfoot deformity. These four components of a clubfoot deformity can be remembered with the acronym CAVE (cavus, forefoot adductus, varus and equinus).
The severity of the deformity can also be assessed on physical exam, but is subjective to quantify. One way to assess severity is based on the stiffness of the deformity or how much it can be corrected with manual manipulation of the foot to bring it into a corrected position. Other factors used to assess severity include the presence of skin creases in the arch and at the heel and poor muscle consistency.
In some cases, it may be possible to detect the disease prior to birth during a prenatal ultrasound. Prenatal diagnosis by ultrasound can allow parents the opportunity to get information about this condition and make plans for treatment after their baby is born.
Other testing and imaging is typically not needed. Further testing may be needed if there are concerns for other associated conditions.
Because your newborn’s bones, joints and tendons are very flexible, treatment for clubfoot usually begins in the first week or two after birth. The goal of treatment is to improve the way your child’s foot looks and works before he or she learns to walk, in hopes of preventing long-term disabilities.
Treatment options include:
- Stretching and casting (Ponseti method)
- French method:
(Ponseti method :
Using the Ponseti method, the foot deformity is corrected in stages. These stages are as follows: manipulating the foot to an improved position and then holding it with a long leg cast, then removing the cast after a week, and then manipulating the foot again. The foot position usually improves over a course of 4–6 casts. The amount of casts varies from person to person to address each individual’s characteristic needs.
- The initial cast focuses on aligning the forefoot with the hindfoot as Ponseti describes the forefoot as relatively pronated in comparison to the hindfoot. Supinating the forefoot and elevating the first metatarsal improves this alignment.
- Subsequent casts are applied after stretching the foot with a focus on abducting the forefoot with lateral pressure at the talus, to bring the navicula laterally and improve the alignment of the talonavicular joint. In contrast to the Kite Method of casting, it is important to avoid constraining the calcanocuboid joint. With each additional cast, the abduction is increased and this moves the hindfoot from varus into valgus. It is important to leave the ankle in equinus until the forefoot and hindfoot are corrected.
- The final stage of casting, is to correct the equinus. After fully abducting the forefoot with spontaneous correction of the hindfoot, an attempt is made to bring the ankle up and into dorsiflexion. For the majority of children, the equinus will not fully correct with casting and a procedure is done to facilitate this final aspect of the deformity correction. The procedure is a percutaneous achilles tendon release or tenotomy. Ponseti advocated for doing this in the clinic with a local anesthetic. For safety reasons, many centers perform this procedure with sedation or monitored anesthesia care. In this procedure, numbing medicine is applied, the skin is cleansed, and a small scalpel is used to divide the Achilles tendon. With a small scalpel there is minimal bleeding and no need for stitches. A small dressing is applied and a final clubfoot cast is applied with the foot in a fully corrected position. This cast is typically left in place for 3 weeks.
After correction has been achieved with casting, maintenance of correction starts with full-time (23 hours per day) use of a brace —also known as a foot abduction brace (FAB)—on both feet, regardless of whether the TEV is on one side or both, typically full-time for 3 months. After 3 months, brace wear is decreased and used mostly when sleeping for naps and at night-time. This part-time bracing is recommended until the child is 4 years of age.
Roughly 30% of children will have recurrence. A recurrence can usually be managed with repeating the casting process. Recurrence is more common when there is poor compliance with the bracing, because the muscles around the foot can pull it back into the abnormal position. Approximately 20% of infants successfully treated with the Ponseti casting method will have an imbalance between the muscles that invert the ankle (posterior tibialis and anterior tibialis muscles) and the muscles that evert the ankle (peroneal muscles). Patients with this imbalance are more prone to recurrence. After 18 months of age, this can be addressed with surgery to transfer the anterior tibialis tendon from its medial attachment (the navicula) to a more lateral position (the lateral cuneiform) to rebalance these muscle forces. While this requires a general anesthetic and subsequent casting while the tendon heals, it is a relatively minor surgery that corrects a persistent muscle imbalance while avoiding disturbance to the joints of the foot.
The French method for treatment of clubfoot is a conservative method of treatment of a newborn which requires daily physical therapy for the first two months. The goal of this treatment is to avoid future need of surgery, but the success rate varies and after release surgery may still be necessary. The treatment includes daily manipulations of the feet along with stretching of the feet, followed by taping in order to maintain the range of motion gains achieved at the end of each session. The French method differs from the Ponseti method in that the taping techniques allow some motion in the feet. Another focus is to strengthen the peroneal muscles which is thought to contribute towards long-term correction. After the two month mark physical therapy sessions can be weaned down to three times per week instead of daily until the child reaches six months old. Parents are required to continue on with home exercises and night splinting even after the program has achieved proper foot correction in order to maintain the correction. The Ponseti method is generally preferred.
If your baby’s clubfoot is severe or doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatments, more-invasive surgery may be needed. An orthopedic surgeon can lengthen or reposition tendons and ligaments to help ease the foot into a better position. After surgery, your child will be in a cast for up to two months, and then need to wear a brace for a year or so to prevent the clubfoot from coming back.
Even with treatment, clubfoot may not be totally correctable. But in most cases, babies who are treated early grow up to wear ordinary shoes and lead full, active lives.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.