Clubfoot is an orthopedic condition that affects the bones, muscles, and tendons of the feet. It typically presents in newborns and can range from mild to incapacitating. While it is often caused by genetics, it can sometimes be prevented if caught early on in gestation. In this guide, we'll explore the basics of clubfoot - such as what it is, if it's hereditary, and how to prevent it - plus helpful advice for parents dealing with a clubfoot diagnosis.
What is Clubfoot?
Clubfoot is a congenital deformity of the foot and ankle, caused by the way the bones, muscles, and tendons are formed in the womb. It can cause the foot to appear slightly smaller on one side and turn downward. In more serious cases, clubfoot can also involve an inward twist at the bottom of the affected leg. It can also be bilateral – affecting both feet - or unilateral – affecting only one foot. The condition is usually diagnosed shortly after birth.
What Causes Clubfoot and Is It Hereditary?
The exact cause of clubfoot is unknown, however it often appears to run in families. A specific genetic mutation has been found in some cases, which means it is probably an inherited disorder; however, other cases follow no familial pattern, so the reality may be more complex. Environmental factors such as certain viruses, smoking or alcohol during pregnancy, and poor nutrition are also thought to increase the risk for clubfoot development.
How Can Parents Prevent Clubfoot in Their Unborn Children?
While there is no known surefire way to prevent clubfoot, there are steps that future parents can take to reduce the risk. These include avoiding the use of alcohol or tobacco products during pregnancy, ensuring optimal nutrition for the mother, taking extra care when exercising, and receiving treatment for any infections or illnesses as soon as possible. Additionally, regular ultrasounds and other prenatal genetic tests may be able to detect signs of clubfoot in utero so that interventions can begin prior to birth.
Types of Treatments for Clubfoot
There are several types of treatments available for clubfoot, depending on the age and situation of the patient. Non-surgical options typically involve casting, which helps gently position the foot in a more functional position. Surgery is an option for children who have not seen any progress with non-surgical treatments or those born with a more severe deformity. Orthopedic surgery helps to realign tendons and ligaments, allowing them to function normally once again. In some cases, however, additional procedures or even corrective bracing may be necessary to achieve full range of motion and optimal foot positioning.
Long-Term Outlook and Prognosis for Individuals With Clubfoot
With today’s advanced treatments and modern medical technology, the long-term outlook for people with clubfoot is generally very good. With appropriate treatment, the vast majority of infants born with clubfoot can be helped to achieve a normal range of motion and a nearly normal walking gait by adulthood. The key to achieving this successful outcome is early detection followed by regular care and monitoring throughout childhood. With effective management, most children can look forward to a life without restrictions or disabilities related to clubfoot.