What is Clubfoot?

Clubfoot is a birth defect that causes one or both of a baby’s feet to turn inward, or to point upward. The shape bears a rough resemblance to a golf club, with the foot extending outward at an angle. 

This condition involves a problem with the baby’s tendons, which connect muscle to bone. With clubfoot, the tendons in your baby’s feet are shorter and tighter than normal. This causes the feet to “twist” sideways or upward.  

It’s not usually a painful condition, but it needs to be treated so your child can walk normally later.


What Are the Different Types of Clubfoot?

There are two types of clubfoot: isolated (or idiopathic) and non-isolated.

  • If your child has isolated (idiopathic) clubfoot it usually means they do not have other related medical conditions. This is the most common type of clubfoot and the most easily treated.
  • If your child has other medical conditions—like arthrogryposis or spina bifida—then their clubfoot is called non-isolated clubfoot. This type of clubfoot can be harder to treat.

What Causes Clubfoot?

The cause of clubfoot is unknown, but like any other medical condition, it’s probably a mix of genes and environment. We do know that there tends to be a hereditary link: Children from families with a history of clubfoot have a higher chance of developing it themselves. 

How Common Is Clubfoot?

When it comes to birth defects of the feet, clubfoot is fairly common.

1 in 1,000 infants is born with clubfoot.1

Understanding Medical History

Your family medical history can raise the risk of having a child with clubfoot.  For instance, if one child has clubfoot, the chances of their sibling being born with it, as well, is around 1 in 25, or 4%.2 

Is Gender a Factor? 

Clubfoot is more common in boys. Boys are 2 times more likely than girls to have clubfoot.3

Can Clubfoot Occur in Both Feet?

Clubfoot can occur in one or both feet.  About 50% of children born with clubfoot have it in both feet.4


1Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

2Source: March of Dimes

3Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

4Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

What Do I Need to Know, As the Parent?

If your child has clubfoot, here are a few questions to ask your child’s physician. 

Before Treatment 

  • What happens during each phase of treatment?
  • How long will each of the phases of treatment take?
  • Will my child need surgery?
  • How much time should I expect to take off of work during treatment?

During Treatment 

  • Will my child be in pain during treatment? If so, how can I help with managing that pain?
  • What are the warning signs of complications that I should look for?
  • How can I help my child during each phase of treatment?

After Treatment 

  • How long and how often will my child have to wear the brace after treatment?
  • What are the signs of clubfoot recurrence that I should be on the lookout for after treatment?
  • Will my child’s foot look normal after treatment?
  • Will my child be able to run and play normally after treatment?

How Can I Explain Clubfoot to My Child?

Clubfoot treatment usually starts well before your baby is old enough to be aware of the condition. The most common treatment method—the Ponseti Method—typically begins before a child turns 2 weeks old. 

But the bracing that makes up the third and final step of this type of treatment can continue until your child is 3 or 4 years old.

At that point, your child might start asking some questions. Here are some ways to explain clubfoot to youngsters:


“Your foot has bones and muscles in it, just like the rest of your body.” 

Start with the basics—and keep your explanations simple. This is important if you want your child to understand what having clubfoot means. 

Depending on how much detail you think your child can grasp, you can explain that muscles and bones are connected to each other by parts called tendons. Explain that every person has muscles, bones, and tendons throughout their body. 


“The tendons in your foot are shorter than they should be.” 

The simplest explanation about clubfoot is that the shortened tendons have pulled your child’s foot into a “sideways” position.  

If you think having a visual aid might help, you can use an illustration to explain: 

[Basic, kid-friendly graphic showing what clubfoot looks like internally (with muscle, tendon, bone) and possibly also externally] 


“The clubfoot brace is helping your foot learn to stay in the right position.” 

By the time your child is old enough to ask questions about clubfoot, they might only be wearing the brace at night and during naptime.  

If they want to know why the brace needs to be worn, keep your explanation simple: The brace is “teaching” the foot how to stay in the right position so there won’t be any problems when they grow up. 


“You have special shoes.” 

Your child might ask about not being able to wear regular shoes with the brace. Explain that they’re wearing special “clubfoot shoes” attached to the brace, and they are working “magic” on their feet.  

Or tell your child these shoes were made just for them, they’re all theirs, and no other kid can wear them. It might help your child feel special—and brighten their mood.