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What Is Clubfoot?

Clubfoot is when the foot (or feet) appears to turn inwards at the ankle. The most common symptoms of clubfoot are when people appear to be walking on the ankles, or on the sides of their feet. The heel of the foot points down and the front half of the foot turns inward. Also, the heel may look too narrow and the muscles in the calf are smaller compared to a normal lower leg. Inside the anatomy of clubfoot, the Achilles tendon is tighter than a normal foot.

Clubfoot deformity is a common birth defect and happens about once in every 1,000 live births; in clubfoot of newborns, about 50% happen to both feet. Clubfoot happens twice as often to males than females. The causes of clubfoot are believed to be genetic (something in your parent’s DNA) and environmental (the baby develops clubfoot while in the mother’s womb).

No one knows for sure what is the cause of club foot, but some doctors believe that clubfoot deformity may have something to do with the position of the baby in the uterus. Sometimes babies with clubfoot also have disorders such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Another sign of a clubfoot deformity is the decreased amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus in the uterus during pregnancy.

The good news is most babies with clubfoot can have normal looking feet and normal function with the Ponseti Method, named after Ignacio Ponseti who was a physician, specializing in orthopedics. A native of Spain, he fled the Spanish Civil War and, later, became a faculty member and practicing physician at the University of Iowa.

Early in his career at the University of Iowa, Dr. Ponseti realized that clubfoot surgery did not fully correct clubfoot and/or created problems later in life, such as severe arthritis or even requiring more surgery. In working to develop a new approach, he determined it could be non-surgical.

In the 1950s, he developed the Ponseti Method (also known as the Ponseti Technique), a non-surgical technique that uses a series of casts, followed by a brace, to correct congenital clubfoot.

The Ponseti Method for clubfoot is when a doctor gently stretches the foot and casts it in the correct position. This clubfoot treatment is based on the anatomy of the foot and of the biological response of muscles, ligaments and bone to gradual change by manipulation and casting. Learn more about this treatment.

At the 2007 International Clubfoot Symposium attended by 200 doctors from 44 countries, papers were presented regarding an estimated 10,000 children successfully treated with the technique around the world in the past few years. The Ponseti Method has become the accepted first-line of treatment for clubfoot. If your child has clubfoot, you should seek a qualified physician who is trained in the Ponseti Method of clubfoot correction.
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