If left untreated, the clubfoot patient will not be able to set their foot flat on the ground. This will lead to them being unable to wear shoes or walk without pain. They will often be forced to hobble around on the very outsides of their feet or even their ankles. Because of their inability to move around regularly, many of the people affected have a very low quality of life and miss out on important opportunities.
For people who live in third world countries, the condition can be especially debilitating. In fact, over 80% of cases of untreated clubfoot worldwide occur in third world countries where people do not have access to quality medical care. This can lead to them being ostracized, shunned, and put out on the streets. Many people are unable to perform the tasks required for available jobs, leaving them unemployed and dependent on family or strangers to care for them.
It’s best to start treatment at around 1 to 2 weeks because ligaments, bones, and joints are very flexible and easier to treat. The standard method of treatment for infants and children is called the Ponseti method, which was discussed in an earlier blog post. However, those who did not receive treatment as a child or have experienced a relapse as an adult are generally treated using the Ilizarov method.
According to the Clubfoot Institute in Arcadia, CA, "In the Ilizarov method, wires are placed through bone of the clubfoot and attached to an external fixator, which is slowly adjusted at home by the patient after receiving instructions from the doctor." The fixator then works similarly to braces on teeth-it is gradually tightened, which manipulates the positioning of the lower leg and foot. Unfortunately, this process is very time consuming and painful for the patient. Additionally, since they are older and their bones and ligaments are more mature than a child’s, they may experience a relapse in the condition and be required to repeat the procedure.