Clubfoot: Symptoms and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on March 13, 2024
5 min read

Clubfoot (or club foot) is a condition where your baby's foot is twisted. It may curl sideways with the toes bent at a funny angle. Or it might have an odd shape and point in the wrong direction, so that it appears to be crooked, or even nearly upside down.

About 1 out of every 1,000 babies is born with clubfoot, making it fairly common. Most babies who are born with clubfoot are healthy in all other ways; about half of them have it in both feet.

If clubfoot is not treated, it can make it hard for your child to walk without a limp. It’s easy to correct in most cases, so most children don’t have long-lasting effects.

Metatarsus adductus vs. clubfoot

Metatarsus adductus is a milder type of foot problem. In this case, the bones in the front part of the foot (the metatarsus bones) turn inward, toward the side of the big toe. The back of the foot and the ankle are not affected. With clubfoot, not only are the front bones twisted, but the foot also drops down and the ankle turns inward.

Most of the time, no special treatment is needed for metatarsus adductus. The foot corrects itself when your child starts walking. If treatment is needed, it would likely involve stretching exercises, a splint, or special shoes.

No, it's not painful for your baby. But if it isn't treated, your child:

  • Won't be able to walk properly
  • May develop painful calluses
  • May be unable to wear shoes
  • Will have pain when walking, which will limit what they do




There are two main types of clubfoot:

Isolated (idiopathic). This is the most common type. Children with no other medical issues have clubfoot.

Non-isolated. Children who have health problems such as spina bifida have clubfoot, as a symptom of their condition. This type is often harder to treat than isolated clubfoot.

Clubfoot happens because the tendons (bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones) and muscles in and around the foot are shorter than they should be.

Doctors don’t know what causes it, and there’s no way to ensure that your baby won’t be born with it. But some things make clubfoot more likely.

Here are some of the risk factors for clubfoot:

Male sex. Two-thirds of babies with clubfoot are male.

Family history. Babies with a parent or sibling who had clubfoot are twice as likely to get it.

Lifestyle choices. If you smoke or use illegal drugs while you’re pregnant, you raise your baby’s chances of being born with it.

Other conditions that show up at birth. In some cases, it’s linked with another condition a baby is born with, such as spina bifida.

Too little amniotic fluid during pregnancy. This surrounds your baby in the womb. If there’s not enough, your baby’s chances of being born with clubfoot are higher.

It’s easy to notice clubfoot when a baby is born. Your baby may have:

  • A downward-pointing foot and toes that may be curled inward
  • A foot that appears to be sideways or sometimes even upside down
  • Smaller foot size (may be up to a half inch smaller compared to other babies' feet)
  • Calf muscles (on the affected leg) that may not be fully developed
  • A limited range of motion in their foot

Most doctors can spot clubfoot simply by looking at your baby when they're born. If you have an ultrasound done late in your pregnancy, your doctor may notice it then.

Your doctor will begin to correct your baby’s clubfoot shortly after they’re born. Babies don’t use their feet until they learn to stand and walk, so the goal is to fix it early enough to prevent delays. Your doctor will use a cast or surgery.

Clubfoot casting

A baby’s tendons bend and stretch very easily, so doctors can turn the clubfoot in the right direction to help correct the problem. They gently move the foot into a position that’s closer to where it should be. Then, they put on a cast to hold it in place.

About a week later, the doctor removes the cast. They gently stretch the baby’s foot some more, put it in a new position, and put on a new cast. They'll continue this pattern for weeks or months. This is called the Ponseti method. Your doctor may take X-rays to be sure the baby’s bones are slowly moving into their correct positions.

If the series of casts corrects your baby’s clubfoot, they’ll need to wear a special brace or shoe to keep it at the right angle until after they've learned to walk. This is because a clubfoot tends to turn back to its original position. Some children may only need to wear the brace or shoe for a short time. Others may need it for a few years to make sure the foot stays at the right angle.

Clubfoot surgery

Doctors prefer to use nonsurgical methods because surgery can result in a stiffer foot as your child gets older. But sometimes, the tendons and other tissues in your baby’s foot are so short that no amount of stretching and casting can do the trick. If this is the case, surgery may work.

Babies who need clubfoot surgery often get it between the ages of 6 months and a year. Unlike the gradual casting process, the doctor fixes everything in one procedure. They may lengthen tendons or take other steps to turn and shape the foot to a more normal position.

After surgery, your baby will need to wear a cast to keep their foot at the correct angle. Then, they’ll need a brace or a special shoe for about a year so the foot doesn’t go back to its original position.

Clubfoot is a common condition where your baby is born with twisted foot or feet, so they may curl sideways or point in the wrong direction. It won't get better on its own. Luckily, it can be treated with stretching and casting or surgery so your child won't have any lasting problems.

Is clubfoot a lifelong disability?

Not if it's treated early. Most children who receive treatment go on to lead lives free of disability.

Is clubfoot 100% curable?

Idiopathic clubfoot is 95% correctable using stretching and casts with babies. However, if children don't receive this type of care early, there can be more problems down the line.