Many famous people have been born with clubfoot, from the Roman emperor Claudius to actor/comedian Dudley Moore to ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who ended up winning Olympic gold. In fact, one author maintained that it affected baseball pitcher Jim Mecir’s delivery enough to add an extra oomph to his special screwball pitch. The medical term is talipes equinovarus, but we tend to find common names for conditions based on their appearance, and sometimes the position of the leg and foot does resemble a golf club.
Clubfoot Is Common
About one in a thousand babies will be born with club feet – slightly more boys than girls. The exact cause of the problem is not always known, but if you or someone in your family have club feet, it is more likely that your child may have them, too. The abnormality might be observed during pregnancy with an ultrasound, but more commonly is diagnosed at birth. It often affects both feet, turning them inward and even twisting the soles up so that the foot is almost upside down. It is not painful, but treatment should begin right away to make sure the child has the best chance of correcting the foot position to allow him to walk and play normally when he is older.
Treatments for Clubfoot
Although some mild cases may improve on their own, treatment usually begins in the first week or two after birth. With the French method of treatment, the specialist works with parents using stretches and taping to hold the foot in the correct position, and a machine to keep the baby’s foot moving while it sleeps. Parents must make a serious commitment to follow the regimen faithfully.
The Ponseti method involves the specialist repositioning and casting the foot to hold it in the correct position. This is done one or two times a week for several months. It is followed by parents doing daily stretching exercises with the child’s foot and using special shoes or braces – all day for the first few months, and at night until the child is three. If the feet tend to return to the abnormal position, bracing may be needed for a longer period of time.
Prognosis for most children who follow these treatment plans is good. Although the affected foot and leg may always be a little smaller and the calf muscles not quite as developed, they should be able to move normally. If the more conservative treatments do not correct the problem, surgery can be used to realign all the tendons, ligaments and bones in the right position. This is usually done near the end of the first year, and the child will wear a cast until healed, followed by bracing to keep everything in place.
Dr. Howard Schaengold at The Plateau Foot & Ankle Clinic in Sammamish, WA, specializes in pediatric foot care. He has helped many young patients develop strong, healthy feet that allow them to walk, play, and run as well as children without foot problems. We serve the Issaquah, Redmond, and Bellevue areas as well, so call (425) 868-3338 if anything in your child’s foot development or stride is giving you concern. You may also request an appointment on our website.