Clubfoot Symptoms & Causes

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When does clubfoot show up, and what it does look like?

Clubfoot can usually be seen in a prenatal ultrasound, and is readily visible when a baby is born.

•   The heel points downward, and the front half of the foot turns inward.
•   The calf muscles on the affected side are smaller than on the normal side.
•   The leg on the affected side is slightly shorter than on the other side.
•   The foot itself is usually short and wide.
•   The Achilles tendon is tight. 

What causes clubfoot?

Illustration of clubfoot

Clubfoot is a relatively common deformity, affecting about one of every 1,000 newborns. Despite a great deal of study, the exact cause of clubfoot in isolation (not as part of a syndrome or other birth defect) is unknown. There have been some indications of a genetic cause, but these haven’t been confirmed. Most children who are born with a clubfoot don’t have a family history of the condition.

What is known is that if a baby boy has a clubfoot, there’s a 2.5 percent chance that his next-born sibling will have clubfoot, too. If a girl baby has a clubfoot, there’s a 6.5 percent chance that her next-born sibling will also have a clubfoot.

Can clubfoot remain untreated?

Clubfoot is serious only if it’s left untreated. A child’s well-treated clubfoot is very functional, enabling the child to run and play freely. But if left untreated, the condition progresses and limits the child’s mobility.

Who’s at risk for developing clubfoot?

Risk factors may include:

•   a family history of clubfoot
•   genetic syndromes, such as Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18)
•   neuromuscular disorders, such as cerebral palsy (CP) and spina bifida
•   oligohydramnios (a decreased amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus in the uterus) during pregnancy

Babies born with clubfoot may also be at increased risk of having an associated hip condition, developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH). In DDH, the top of the thigh bone (femur) slips in and out of its socket because the socket is too shallow to keep the joint intact.

When to seek medical advice

If your child has clubfoot, your doctor will have observed the condition either in your fetal ultrasound before your baby’s birth or upon delivery of your baby. Your doctor will initiate treatment immediately after your baby is born.

Questions to ask your doctor about clubfoot

If your child is diagnosed with clubfoot, you may feel understandably anxious. It can be easy to lose track of the questions that occur to you. Lots of parents find it helpful to jot down questions as they arise—that way, when you talk to your child’s doctors, you can be sure that all your concerns get addressed.

Some of the questions you may want to ask include:

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   •   Could you describe what’s wrong with my child’s foot (feet)?
   •   Are other tests needed to confirm this diagnosis?
   •   Is there, or could there be, damage to his tissues or blood vessels?
   •   What will my child’s treatment involve? Will he need surgery?
   •   How can you prevent recurrence?
   •   Could there be long-term effects? Pain? Arthritis?
   •   Could this condition affect my child’s ability to walk, run or play sports?
   •   How long should my child be followed by her care team?

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