Commonly congenital, clubfoot is a birth defect where the baby’s foot points inward or downward instead of forward. The tissues connecting the muscles to the tendons are shorter than usual if the baby has a clubfoot.
Symptoms of clubfoot can be mild or severe and it may affect both feet of your child. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, about half of children with this condition have it in both feet.
5 symptoms of clubfoot
Doctors can detect if an unborn child has a clubfoot through an ultrasound. However, symptoms of clubfoot usually are identified after birth.
How will you know if your child has symptoms of clubfoot? It is diagnosed commonly by doctors based on the appearance of the baby’s foot. Nevertheless, your medical health provider may also order an X-ray to confirm if the twisted baby’s foot is a clubfoot.
Here are the five symptoms of clubfoot:
- The clubfoot is usually smaller than the other foot. The affected leg may be slightly shorter too.
- The heel of the affected foot may be smaller than the unaffected one.
- The toes are pointing toward the opposite foot.
- Clubfoot is a twisted foot that turns inward or downward. If the foot is severely affected, it may be twisted upside down.
- The leg with clubfoot may have underdeveloped calf muscle.
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What causes clubfoot in pregnancy
Clubfoot is an idiopathic condition, which means, the cause of its symptoms is unknown. But according to experts, it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, as stated in the Healthline article, clubfoot occurs more often in males than females. In addition, it happens in one out of every 1,000 live births.
Other risk factors for developing clubfoot in pregnancy are family history, congenital conditions, environment, or if there was not enough amniotic fluid surrounding the baby during pregnancy.
If one or both parents have had clubfoot, their baby may have it too. It can also occur if their other children have had clubfoot.
Moreover, clubfoot can be a congenital skeleton abnormality like spina bifida. Spina Bifida is a birth defect affecting the spine and spinal cord. It happens when the spine and spinal cord don’t develop or close properly as the child grows during pregnancy.
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Furthermore, there’s also an environmental factor that may result in the development of clubfoot. If you are smoking while you are pregnant, it can significantly increase the risk of clubfoot occurrence in your baby. Spending time in smoky environments may also increase your baby’s risk of having clubfoot.
Long-term effects of clubfoot
According to WebMD, clubfoot usually may not cause pain and discomfort to your baby. However, as the child grows, it may be difficult for them to stand and walk.
If your child starts to stand and walk with a clubfoot, it may cause difficulty if not treated. Treatment of clubfoot will help your child walk normally and comfortably.
Clubfoot may affect the flexibility of the affected foot. Additionally, the affected leg may be a little shorter than the unaffected one but may not cause mobility problems. In addition, the shoe size of the affected foot may be smaller than the unaffected one by up to 1 ½ inches.
If left untreated, clubfoot pain can occur later in life. It can cause more serious problems such as the lack of ability to walk normally. Because the ankle of the clubfoot is twisted, your child may not be able to walk on the sole. They may walk on the top of the foot in severe cases. In other cases, they may walk using the ball of the foot, or the outside of the foot.
Your child may also experience large sores or calluses on their foot due to walking adjustments. Of course, the unusual appearance of their foot may result in poor self-image.
That may affect their self-esteem while growing up. Worse, your child is likely to develop arthritis later in life. All of these long-term effects may affect your child’s quality of life. That is why it is best to consult a doctor and ask for advice regarding treatments for your child’s clubfoot.
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Clubfoot treatment and prevention
Your doctor can give you advice for your child’s clubfoot treatment as soon as they diagnose it when your baby is born. The treatment will depend on the severity of the clubfoot. There are two types of clubfoot treatment, one is for mild cases, and the other is for more severe cases.
A mild clubfoot treatment includes stretching to reshape the foot. It is done commonly in combination with a cast. This treatment is called the Ponseti method.
Here is the process of clubfoot treatment through the Ponseti method:
There are cases where the doctor needs to clip a portion of the Achilles tendon that connects the baby’s heel to the calf muscle. They have to do it so the tendon can grow to a normal length. The clipping is usually done before the doctor put the final cast on your baby.
- The doctor will stretch the foot of your baby toward the correct position.
- A cast will be placed on the stretched foot to hold it.
- Every week, the doctor will remove the cast.
- The process will continue until the foot is fully corrected. It usually takes several months until the foot turns in the correct position.
- When the final cast is removed, your baby may need to wear special shoes or a brace for several months.
- The doctor may advise you to do stretching exercises with your baby.
For severe cases of clubfoot, the doctor often recommends the baby undergo surgery. During the surgery, the orthopedic surgeon will lengthen the tendons and realign the bones and joints of the foot.
Afterward, your baby will need to stay in the hospital for several days and the casted leg will be elevated to prevent further swelling.
After the surgery, your baby may need to wear a cast for a few months. It is an important part of the recovery process to allow the tendons, bones, and incisions to heal. If your baby grows too quickly, they may need to replace the cast for several times.
Once your baby's cast is removed, the foot should look like a normal foot. However, your doctor may also recommend the wearing of special shoes and a brace for your child until the recovery is completed.
On the other hand, most of the time, babies that received treatment for clubfoot are able to live actively. They get to live a normal life as they get older.
However, there are risks that can be associated with surgery, such as nerve damage in the foot, interrupted blood flow to the foot, and excessive foot swelling.
Another is the formation of an ulcer because of a too-tight cast. There are also rare cases of clubfoot that is not correctible. Living with a clubfoot that is not corrected will mean having a less active lifestyle.
To prevent your child from getting clubfoot, you have to take extra care of yourself during pregnancy. The causes of clubfoot may be unknown but you can limit the risk of getting birth defects by doing the following:
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- Avoid taking drugs not approved by your doctor.
- Do not drink beverages with alcohol content.
- Stop smoking.
- Avoid spending time in smoky environments.
- Have a regular prenatal check-up.
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