Thomas’s Story

Blog » Personal Stories » Talipes / Clubfoot

The most levelling realisation as a parent is that everybody, every child, has something going on at some point. For me, I was born with two clubbed feet in 1978.

It wasn’t a total surprise when I arrived. There were no scans of course, but my mother and her sister (and latterly her daughter) both had bilateral talipes. However, that’s it; my maternal uncle, brother, sister and my other four cousins were all unaffected. We know of no one from further back in the family tree, neither my two children nor my maternal cousins’ children have inherited it.

My feet and ankles were strapped with splints from a few days old, the brace was added after a couple of months until around 8 months, at which point I had the brace just at night for a time. The angles were periodically adjusted but my mum says whilst she thought the adjustments were uncomfortable for me – like a dentist adjusting an orthodontic brace – apparently a bottle of gripe water smoothed over the situation as far as I was concerned.

The first of three or four operations came when I was five and the last one was before seven. One foot at a time, they lengthened the achilles and also released the tendons near the arch. I recall being in a modified wheelchair/cart for a couple of school trips and weekends away. I remember a small amount about the hospitals, but nothing bad, just dodgy toast, the anaesthetist’s scratch and a get well soon present when I woke up.

My specialist foot surgeon/consultant, a jovial, positive man called Mr Clegg, would draw a stick man or arrow on my foot to make sure he didn’t operate on the wrong one the next day. After the main – well graffitied – cast came off, there was a period of removable night time casts. My mum tells me that I got my first special (non-braced) boots, rather like sturdy Dr Martins, at 12 months, these were a feature until I was 7. I was walking by 13 months just like anyone else.

I have always been quite happy with the scars on my feet – one down the length of each achilleas to under my ankle joints and then one or two lengthways across each instep. Perhaps it’s because I distinctly remember the satisfaction of seeing the incisions and stiches having finally gotten off the itchy cast each time.

When I first started to research clubbed feet again, I was thrilled to see that Ponseti provided such a successful and predominantly non-invasive treatment. It obviously requires patience and commitment, but so did the more surgical method which had much more varied results.

I have enjoyed sports and fitness throughout my life. Football at primary school, rugby and hockey at secondary school and mainly hockey at university. I loved swimming as a child (though, like many children, I decided I did not want to do it both before and after school!).

I did have some back pain issues later in life which required a bit of time to find the solution to. They may or may not have been related to my feet, they probably didn’t help, but then neither did spending years sitting hunched over a desk staring at screens with numbers on them.

I’m also slightly hyper mobile in my joints which can be contributary to back problems. I remember very clearly the foot consultant always immediately checking the mobility of my ankles when the casts came off and at all subsequent appointments. That was his main test; I always wondered why we drove for 45 minutes and waited for an age just for that, I understand the importance now. Perhaps it was the hyper mobility that actually helped my feet in the end, so it’s swings and roundabouts, as with so many things.

Searching for a back solution brought me to a love of core exercise, weights, Pilates etc. I will extoll the virtues of this strand of exercise to anyone having apparently persistent back/foot/hip/neck issues. I had enough manual physio, massage and chiropractor visits to know they can’t provide the actual answer – as nice as they feel on the day. I’ve got orthotics for my shoes but then so do plenty of people, I think they help at the margin.

The mobility and stability focussed exercise gave me the solution to my back issues and allowed me to maintain my body at a different level (including in my feet/ankles). It’s instructive that many physiotherapists now focus the majority of their time on strength and active rehab (including weights and calisthenic type exercise) rather than manual manipulation and low-level repetitive exercises.

I also came back to swimming, and with more commitment than I could summon as a child. I saw it coached recently that the optimal freestyle kick technique is to slightly turn the feet towards each other – finally, the talipes had a use.