Living with clubfoot is complicated. It complicates our ability to walk, to work, to relax, and to grow.
Over the years I’ve had a number of breakthroughs which enormously boosted my quality of life and reduced pain. So below I'll share my best clubfoot solutions.
But first, I should mention that not all of my suggestions will work for every person.
Everyone’s clubfoot is different. Today I have mild clubfoot problems after treatment throughout my life, but I understand that others are in a tougher position.
Wherever you are today, I hope you find an idea or two that helps you.
1. Do your exercises!
If a chiropractor, doctor, or physio gives you exercises... do them!
That’s where the real progress comes.
I was hot and cold on this during different stages of life, but now it’s crystal clear how important exercises are.
During lockdown, I had weeks of soul-crushing hip pain. All my normal routines disappeared. And after 10 minutes of sitting for breakfast, I would double over in pain like an old man.
So when lockdown ended, I sought help and connected with a BRILLIANT chiropractor.
He explained that he'll do 20% of the work, and I'll do 80% through the daily exercises.
He gave me clear instructions, and I followed them relentlessly... spending 1-3 hours most days. And my body TRANSFORMED over those 10 weeks.
I know 3 hours is a bit extreme, but I was desperate to fix my situation.
20 minutes is ideal once you're in maintenance mode.
My chiropractor said that we progressed in 3 weeks to the point he would expect after 3 months because I was committed to the exercises.
I'm not saying this to show off, but to explain that consistent daily action led to massive changes.
A good rule of thumb...
Aim to do your exercises 5 times a week.
That way you can take a day off without feeling guilty, and you’re more likely stick with it.
If you can take a day off whenever you like, it switches the inner dialogue from "a chore I have to do every single day"... to an easily doable goal that is transformational.
Plus you'll feel extra-proud if you do them 6 or 7 days.
This is a great framework for most life goals!
2. If your feet are different sized, buy two pairs of shoes
This was a breakthrough for me, and ENORMOUSLY reduced my ankle pain.
It's ridiculous, expensive, and wasteful to buy two pairs of the same shoes, but it’s so worth it.
Previously I bought shoes to fit my bigger foot. My small foot would slide around everywhere (even with padding).
I’ll NEVER go back to that.
I now realize that my foot was constantly tensed. Now my foot and whole right side feel like they're functioning so much better.
I still get pain sometimes, but it's not at the same level and it's much more controllable.
A recent conversation made me laugh...
My 4 month old shoes had stretched because of some awful orthotics.
My chiropractor told me to buy new shoes.
Those 4 month old shoes cost me over $300 (one pair size 42, one pair size 45... medium quality Asics).
I laughed because the shoe was ever so slightly too big for my foot...
Whereas I had spent most of my life wearing a shoe 3 sizes too big.
Well, he shut me down immediately.
He asked me “would you rather spend $600 now, or $20,000 PLUS THE EXTRA PAIN of a knee replacement in 10 years time?”
Ok, ok, I get it!
3. Regular footcare
Beyond emergency measures when pain flare-ups, I've found it's good to set a day each week to treat my feet... AS A ROUTINE.
Because a little prevention can be the best cure!
Massage, scrubbing, compression, icing, and hot soaks are key for me.
Icing is my go-to when inflammation flares up.
And a weekly scrub and soak helps me to stay on top of my game and feeling a million bucks.
Well, maybe not a million bucks, but when I do weekly epsom salt soaks and daily Rexona-Can Massage, my pain reduces noticeably and tends not to flare up quite so quickly.
4. Not all doctors and care providers are equal
I’m sure most clubbies are in the same boat…
I’ve worked with some amazing people, and some not so amazing.
And what I’ve learned is that it's on me to persist in seeking out good help.
There are super knowledgeable and dedicated care providers out there... But finding them can take effort.
My latest example is working with a chiropractor.
Three years ago I went to a chiropractor for the first time. He took my money and sent me on my way with no improvement in my body, and very little effort on his part. He didn’t even do any assessment of my body or ask questions.
That turned me off the idea of working with chiropractors.
But after my lockdown pain emergency, I’m working with a chiropractor who has TRANSFORMED my life.
He did a thorough assessment...
He took my pain from a 9 to a 3 in that first session...
And he came up with a plan that I have confidence in.
He explained so much to me that I never knew before.
And not only did he help my hip pain, but it turns out he specialises in feet... INCLUDING CLUB FEET.
You might like to watch the video we recorded together, Clubfoot Chiropractor Q&A:
I always thought chiropractors focused on the spine, but actually they work on ALL JOINTS.
He says that feet can change A LOT.
You know, I had resigned myself to the fact that arthritis was unavoidable... but apparently not!
At time of writing, we’re only at week 2 working on my clubfoot, so I’ll post an update soon.
Sign up to my email list and I'll share progress updates and any more tidbits of wisdom that he shares.
So, right now I’m excited and feel like I’ve got a new lease on life, but the thing is…
WHY DID NOBODY MENTION THIS BEFORE?
I've spent 34 years working with surgeons, specialists etc… and no one ever mentioned any of this stuff to me…
I’ve been told time and time again that my treatments are complete.... That it’s a matter of living with my clubfoot the way it is.
But why didn't someone say... "you might want to try working with a chiropractor to ease your clubfoot pain over the next 20 years."
Anyway, that’s why I’m writing it here, to share what’s worked for me so someone else can get on to it earlier.
The point is, we need to drive our own progress.
I’ve had fantastic orthotics, and orthotics which made my pain worse... I've had life changing massage and destructive massage... Amazing doctors and awful doctors.
We need to keep seeking out solutions, and develop our own intuition about who to trust, and when to keep looking.
And one final point…
Speak up if you think something’s not right.
If you feel something’s not right, say something.
I remember my mum calling the hospital after a traumatic procedure, and they assured her that it won't happen again.
"They" are humans... and they're generally on our team and trying to make things work better and better... but they don't get every thing right every time.
In my experience, when I try be proactive, most people will stop and discuss or pull back slightly when needed. Not always, but most of the time.
To summarize, keep trying until you find people who can help you!
Try not to be disheartened, and listen to your intuition.
This constant trial and error is frustrating and expensive, I know!
But when you find someone who really wants to help and has the solutions you need, it’s so worth the effort.
Which brings us to number 5…
5. Persistence is key
I’m not talking about forceful persistence that can cause harm…
We need to know when to rest…
But it’s amazing what can come from persistence.
Finding medical help is a clear example, but I’m also talking about smaller details…
Like when you realize that soaking and massaging your feet helps to prevent pain... And then doing it CONSISTENTLY.
Or that life improves when you sleep well and meditate… make it consistent!
Or more broadly when you have a goal you want to achieve but i requires extra effort and resourcefulness.
I think that persistence is one of the most important character traits to work on. It's a meta-skill... supporting and boosting every other goal or aspect of life.
And a big part of it for club-foot folk is BEING ULTRA-PATIENT and having hope.
So many times I’ve felt like I was on track... doing yoga every day and everything else… then suddenly the pain flares up. Sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
It’s so frustrating and you just feel like crying or giving up.
But I’ve found that when I focus on finding ANY small thing that I can do to improve the situation (e.g stretching in a hot pool)... Then things can improve.
In the book Grit, psychologist Carol Dwek discusses exactly this (great read fyi).
She describes two types of "hope". One is simply hoping that tomorrow will be better, and the other is actively searching for ways to MAKE tomorrow better.
I remind myself of this when I’m having a tough day, and it works.
Progress is frustratingly slow sometimes. But there’s an element of faith we all have to have... that if I just keep trying to improve my situation, some things will work.
Some are be big wins, and some will be incremental improvements.
And each victory and failure adds to our experience. Both in terms of clubfoot strategies, but also grander life skills... like perseverance, patience, and maturity.
Ok, one quick story to illustrate, then I’ll move on.
I used to tutor an 8 year old boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
He struggled to learn and was years behind his classmates. But he had this champion attitude, and kept trying and trying and trying.
We worked super slowly, and after WEEKS he started to understand and remember little bits.
Long story short... over 1 year working together, he lifted his reading and maths by 3 year levels!
I look at that boy and think wow, that is the attitude I want to have, and to encourage in my kids one day. Life may be tough, but he’ll figure it out.
6. Eat well
Food directly impacts inflammation and our body’s ability to function.
I’ve noticed massive improvements in my pain when I eat well.
On top of personal experience, I was fortunate to work on a few projects with doctors, nutritionists, and disease specialists.
They drove home the connection between nutrition, inflammation, and disease prevention.
So I highly recommend taking time to consider what you're eating and whether there are opportunities to improve things.
Heck, I spent 3 months living on salad and coconut water, and my joints and muscles felt fantastic for it.
7. supplements for clubfoot and joint health
After reading a ton of scientific research, I decided to take turmeric and cod liver oil supplements, plus a natural multivitamin.
To be honest, it’s hard to notice the improvement from the supplements. They work slowly and it’s hard to distinguish whether it’s the supplements or other factors.
But I read enough studies and credible opinions that I’m confident to go for it and trust that they’re helping me.
One thing I will say is that when I started working with the chiropractor, he was amazed at how well my joints responded. I figure that's partly because they were nicely limbered up by all that omega-3.
8. Pain isn’t natural
I know this is controversial, especially in clubfoot communities... but hear me out.
I take it as a goalpost, something to aim for and work towards.
This from reading the work of Dr Stephen Thielke.
He’s a researcher and medical doctor, and is highly critical of widespread acceptance of pain... Especially when it comes to doctors telling patients to live with pain.
Learn about different treatment options, including exercise, ultrasound, massage, and hot-cold therapy.
For me, this goes back to persistence and hope. I envision myself in 10 years time living in a house with a hot pool to stretch in. Doing yoga and following a proactive routine to keep my body and mind feeling great.
9. Ask Questions
Countless gems of wisdom have come from asking questions. From doctors, physios, yoga teachers... the list goes on.
Sometimes the answer is so important that you think afterwards, "would you have told me that if I didn’t ask? "
But of course, they’re only human, and they’re focusing on their core job... or maybe they assume that you already know or that it's too much information.
A recent gem is sleeping positions. I struggle with finding a position that doesn’t hurt my neck, so I asked my chiropractor what he recommends.
Well, he told me his recommendation, plus explained why. Plus explained general principles on how my neck should be positioned in relation to my shoulders... principles that apply to all areas of life beyond sleeping.
That's just one of a thousand pieces of advice that have come from asking.
Always ask questions... To clear things up, to educate yourself, and to get tips that you might not have discovered otherwise.
10. Work on your inner game
This is for everyone, but especially for people living with issues like clubfoot.
My go-to inner-game strategies include...
- Goal setting
- Morning routines
- Reading a Morning Manifesto
- Visualizing success and repeating affirmations
- Reading uplifting and informative books
- Being mindful of the types and amounts of media I consume
- Focusing on gratitude
- Spending time with people who lift me up
Now I don't do all of these all the time, that would take the whole day!
But this is essentially a toolkit of things that work for me depending on what's going on in life.
It's really about being proactive. To boost success with goals, and to cushion the falls.
To me, it's like during the pandemic, strengths and weaknesses became amplified (governments, leaders, rich and poor disparities, our own strengths and weaknesses).
During challenges, all that previous work and positive routines really show their worth.
Marie Forleo has a great saying, “Everything is figureoutable.”
When we have pain flareups, when we have to skip activities, or spend our whole paycheck just to keep the pain at bay…. In these times, it can be tempting to feel like a victim or to crumble.
But it's good to approach it as a "sink or swim"... and to swim as hard as possible.
And it's about preparing when times are good, so we have the mental strength for when times get tough.
That's it. My manifesto for life with clubfoot.
If you made it this far, congratulations! I didn't expect it to be such an essay.
Hopefully something above can help you with relief or progress.
I never got a "guide book for living with clubfoot". I wish I had, and so I built this website to share the best bits that have helped me.
If you're a child with clubfoot, set yourself up with good routines. The effort will pay off a thousand times over. If you're an adult with clubfoot, it's never too late to make some form of progress (even if some damage is already done). And if you're a parent or uncle or aunty, offer as much gentle support and encouragement as you can.
Summary: My Tips For Living With Clubfoot
- Regular footcare.
- Do your exercises!
- If one foot is smaller, buy 2 pairs of shoes.
- Not all medical professionals are equal.
- Persistence is key.
- Eat for joint and muscle health.
- Supplements can help.
- Do whatever you can to reduce pain.
- Ask questions
- Work on your inner game
I had clubfoot surgery on my right foot about 70 years ago as an infant; my right leg is thinner and shorter than my left. In the past five years, my right foot started acting up causing muscle spasms, intermittent pain and almost constant aching. And I started walking with a cane. My chiropractor(s) helped with alignment to relieve hip and back pain, and suggested a strength exercise. Lately, the foot discomfort has become almost unbearable. I'm glad I found these recommended exercises to help relieve my aching and anxiety. Fingers crossed that these steps reduce/eliminate the discomfort.
Thanks, this was helpful. I’m writing a story and a main character has clubfoot. I’ve not been able to find much about how that would affect someone’s life, and this helps. I want to write a realistic character, by neither pretending his disability, or writing him as though it’s the only thing that defines him as a person.