The Congenital Clubfoot


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Clubfoot is a common deformity of the ankle and foot that is present at birth. Most cases are corrected without surgery, and affected individuals will grow up to lead normal, active lives. (credit: James W. Hanson)

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

Clubfoot, also known as talipes, is a congenital (present at birth) disorder of unknown cause and is the most common deformity of the lower limb. It affects the foot and ankle, causing the foot to be twisted inward at a sharp angle, like the head of a golf club. Clubfoot has a frequency of about 1 out of every 1,000 births, and is twice as likely to occur in a male child as in a female child. In 50 percent of cases, both feet are affected.

At birth, children with a clubfoot have the heel turned inward and the anterior foot twisted so that the lateral side of the foot is facing inferiorly, commonly due to ligaments or leg muscles attached to the foot that are shortened or abnormally tight. These pull the foot into an abnormal position, resulting in bone deformities. Other symptoms may include bending of the ankle that lifts the heel of the foot and an extremely high foot arch. Due to the limited range of motion in the affected foot, it is difficult to place the foot into the correct position. Additionally, the affected foot may be shorter than normal, and the calf muscles are usually underdeveloped on the affected side. Despite the appearance, this is not a painful condition for newborns. However, it must be treated early to avoid future pain and impaired walking ability.

Although the cause of clubfoot is idiopathic (unknown), evidence indicates that fetal position within the uterus is not a contributing factor. Genetic factors are involved, because clubfoot tends to run within families. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy has been linked to the development of clubfoot, particularly in families with a history of clubfoot.

Previously, clubfoot required extensive surgery. Today, 90 percent of cases are successfully treated without surgery using new corrective casting techniques. The best chance for a full recovery requires that clubfoot treatment begin during the first 2 weeks after birth. Corrective casting gently stretches the foot, which is followed by the application of a holding cast to keep the foot in the proper position. This stretching and casting is repeated weekly for several weeks. In severe cases, surgery may also be required, after which the foot typically remains in a cast for 6 to 8 weeks. After the cast is removed following either surgical or nonsurgical treatment, the child will be required to wear a brace part-time (at night) for up to 4 years. In addition, special exercises will be prescribed, and the child must also wear special shoes. Close monitoring by the parents and adherence to postoperative instructions are imperative in minimizing the risk of relapse.

Despite these difficulties, treatment for clubfoot is usually successful, and the child will grow up to lead a normal, active life. Numerous examples of individuals born with a clubfoot who went on to successful careers include Dudley Moore (comedian and actor), Damon Wayans (comedian and actor), Troy Aikman (three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback), Kristi Yamaguchi (Olympic gold medalist in figure skating), Mia Hamm (two-time Olympic gold medalist in soccer), and Charles Woodson (Heisman trophy and Super Bowl winner).

Source:

Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology