Clubfoot: What Every Parent Needs to Know
Maybe the doctors detected it on the ultrasound. Or maybe it wasn’t apparent until just after birth. But either way, it’s unavoidable: your little one has clubfoot. Now what? At this stage, it’s normal to feel sad, scared, angry… even devastated. It’s your baby! But your story has a happy ending. The road won’t always be an easy one. But clubfoot is very treatable. With expert care and guidance, loving support, and patience, your child can still grow up normally, with no meaningful disability holding them back. As a new parent of a child with clubfoot, here’s what you need to know.
Clubfoot Can Be Treated Without Major SurgeryThe “gold standard” treatment for clubfoot is the Ponseti method, developed in the 1940s and 1950s by Spanish physician Ignacio Ponseti. When correctly performed it can fully restore natural position and function to a child’s feet. Each week, the doctor will carefully stretch and reposition your baby’s feet into proper alignment, then place the long leg plaster casts to hold the foot in position. After a week the cast is removed, baby’s feet are stretched and repositioned once again, and placed in a new cast. This cycle of manipulation and casting will last for a few months, about 3-8 casts usually. Before the last cast a minimally invasive procedure to lengthen the Achilles tendon is usually done to achieve full correction. Baby’s feet are casted one last time, for about three weeks so that the Achilles can heal. In order to prevent a relapse, your child will need to wear braces at least part of the time until 4-5 years of age. For the first 3 months or so they will need to wear the brace almost full time. However, over time they will need to wear the brace less and less—eventually just at nap time and bedtime, and eventually not at all. Of course, we will continue to guide you throughout the entire process.
Parental Discipline Is Critical to Prevent RelapseTo re-emphasize: Once the cycle of casting and manipulation is over, it is mainly up to the child’s parents and family to continue with the regular bracing for the next years. This is not difficult or complicated—anyone can do it. But you have to be disciplined and committed to keeping up with the bracing schedule each and every day. It is truly heartbreaking when a child’s clubfoot relapses, and when this does happen, the vast majority of the time it from bracing noncompliance. We don’t say this to scare you—we just want to make sure you realize how incredibly important this is.
Treatment Should Begin as Soon as Baby and Mom are Heathy to Travel … But If Your Child Is Older, There Is Still HopeThe best time to begin clubfoot treatment is within the first month of life. If you start treatment early, then the casting and the first several months of bracing can all occur before your child is naturally ready to begin crawling, cruising, and walking. In other words, if you start treatment shortly after your child is born, you shouldn’t have to worry about any development delays or mobility struggles affecting your child’s natural development. They’ll learn to walk, run, and play normally on schedule. However, the Ponseti method has been effective in older kids as well! Many of the kids we see did not get the treatment they needed when they were younger or have had a relapse. We are always happy to provide our assistance. This is obviously not as ideal, since the clubfoot and resulting treatment will have a greater impact on your child’s day-to-day life. However, treatment is still possible.
You Are Not AloneA clubfoot diagnosis can feel isolating and alienating. It’s possible that you don’t know anyone who had clubfoot before (at least to your knowledge). But it’s a lot more common than you’d think. In fact, current estimates suggest that about 1 in 750 babies are born with a diagnosable clubfoot deformity. That means that, on average:
- Every day, 15 children are born with clubfoot in the United States
- Every day, 2 children are born with clubfoot in the State of California
- Every week, a child is born with clubfoot in Orange County