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What is clubfoot?

Clubfoot is a deformity that makes a baby’s foot abnormally pointed and twisted. It doesn’t hurt the baby and can be corrected with treatment by a specialist.

What causes clubfoot?

We don’t know why some babies are born with the condition. It's thought to be because the bones and ligaments don't develop properly in the womb. It can run in families and is more common in boys than girls. Clubfoot affects about 1 in 1,000 babies.

Smoking while you are pregnant increases your chances of having a baby with clubfoot.

The medical name for clubfoot is congenital talipes equinovarus. A similar condition, known as postural talipes calcaneovalgus, or turned foot, is mild and normally fixes itself. A doctor can tell the difference between the conditions by examining the foot.

What are the symptoms of clubfoot?

Clubfoot makes a baby’s foot turn in at the ankle and point downwards. It can affect one or both feet.

As well as a twisted and curved foot, your baby might also have underdeveloped calf muscles and small feet.

Clubfoot is not painful.

Illustration of clubfoot
In clubfoot, one or both feet appear to be rotated internally at the ankle

How is clubfoot diagnosed?

Clubfoot is normally noticed soon after a baby is born. Sometimes the doctor may do an X-ray to see how severe the problem is.

Occasionally, clubfoot shows up on an ultrasound done before the birth.

How is clubfoot treated?

Treatment for clubfoot used to involve surgery, physiotherapy and wearing a brace for a year. Recently, doctors have developed a very effective way of treating clubfoot that doesn't involve major surgery and is pain free. It is done by an orthopaedic surgeon and physiotherapist.

The Ponseti method uses a series of plaster casts to gently stretch and turn the baby's foot over time. The casts are worn from the toe to the groin. They are changed each week and are worn for about 12 weeks. The baby may also need a small surgical procedure to lengthen their Achilles tendon.

Once the foot is in the correct position, the child must wear a brace made up of two boots attached to an aluminium bar. They must wear the brace for several hours a day (usually overnight) for 4 years.

Because clubfoot often comes back, it is very important to wear the brace for the correct amount of time. Your doctor or the clinic will also teach you stretching exercises to help your baby.

If done properly, the Ponseti method is almost always successful. After treatment, children who were born with clubfoot can walk, run and play as normal.

Without treatment, the child would have had to walk on the side of their foot.

When to seek help

It's very important to treat clubfoot properly. If it's not treated, clubfoot can lead to walking problems and arthritis. Some children with clubfoot also have hip problems. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your child as they grow up.

More information

Many hospitals have clinics to treat clubfoot. To find an orthopaedic surgeon, talk to your doctor or visit Aussie Club Foot Kids.

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Last reviewed: March 2021

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