Yup, I was born with a birth defect. That sounds horrible, a ‘defect’ as if I was a broken baby. But yeah, both my feet were malformed at birth.
If you wouldn’t know, you wouldn’t notice anything weird at first – only the 12 cm (4’ 7”) scars on my heels & my small calves give it away if you look closely.
But it actually does affect my ability to stand, walk and balance. I am so jealous of my partner, who can literally hike on flip-flops.
Yes, I am fortunate I don’t have to wear orthopedic shoes, but I do need insoles in order to function correctly. And insoles don’t fit in sandals… so my feet are always ‘trapped’ in closed toe shoes until I found the PERFECT solution…
What is CTEV aka Clubfoot?
If you found this article via Google and you were born with clubfoot too, feel free to scroll past this section!
Clubfoot is a malformed foot or two malformed feet, pointing down and inward; officially called Congenital Talipes Equino Varus (CTEV).
So glad they have a fancy name for it, clubfoot (and especially the Dutch translation) isn’t such a great term. Since clubfoot is a birth defect, almost all articles on the internet are written for expectant or young parents: it’s all about the babies.
1 out of 1000 babies is born with clubfoot and men are affected twice as often as women (note: I don’t believe in gender binary, but the stats are what they are for now).
I’m one very special gal because I was born with bilateral clubfoot (yes, that’s double the fun). Although I think I’m happy I don’t have a “good” foot and a “defect” foot – I don’t think comparing the two would do me any good.
The exact cause of clubfoot is unclear, but it might be genetics in my case – my grandma was born with bilateral clubfoot as well.
My Grandma Blamed Herself For My Defect
Subconsciously this might be my biggest motivation to travel the world and prove to everyone I can do anything because my grandma couldn’t.
She was born in a time they break both feet in order to correct them. And although she did have very good years and did quite some hiking too, nowadays, she doesn’t go out of the house anymore.
Her feet hurt too much, and she can’t stand or walk for more than a few minutes. So when I was born, she was devastated.
She thought I was going to undergo the same fate, and she was to blame.
Luckily for me, they don’t break feet anymore. My feet were cast shortly after I was born, in order to improve the position. After 5 months I got surgery, my Achilles tendon was extended through a Posteromedial Release Surgery.
Afterwards, I wore braces until the age of four, I did physical therapy for quite a while and went to the orthopedist for yearly checkups until I was about 13. I’m one of the ‘good’ cases, my surgery was exemplary, and I never needed another one.
Nowadays, there is an even better option to treat clubfoot: the Ponseti method. It’s a manipulative technique that corrects the foot without invasive surgery. It really only gets better!
Traveling & Living with Clubfoot
So how are my ‘defect’ feet doing? Well, I know my ankles are stiffer than ‘normal’ ones, as I cannot bend my leg/foot more than a 90 degrees angle (dorsiflexion of 0 degrees that is).
And apparently my feet are slightly less mobile, my balance is off (but I practice ballet for a long time, which helped me a lot) and I get tired more quickly.
But how would I know? These are the only feet I’ve ever known, and I can’t try out someone else’s feet for a day.
Therefore, I’m happy to say my feet are doing so well – the best I’ve ever known my feet to be! It definitely took some time to figure out what my feet need.
From a young age, I wear insoles (eeeew, right?). These helped me correct my posture – as the clubfoot treatment overcompensated a bit and I, therefore, got flat feet (yaaas, also incredibly hot).
Best Shoes for Clubfoot Adults
I’m going to share with you what I have found to be the best shoes for my feet. This is NOT medical advice, this is what works for me, and it might work for others who were born with clubfoot, but no guarantees.
Oh boy, did I walk in ugly shoes when I was young (no mum, it’s not your fault!), they all had to be sturdy and solid – two of the things you DON’T want as a kid.
The insoles I got as a child were ugly too – and they were light colored, so they got gross quickly. They also didn’t fit in all shoes, so my choice was always limited.
And still, I had persistent heel-pain and ankle-stiffness throughout most of my youth.
Very late in my teenage years I finally figured out flat shoes were causing my persistent heel-pain and ankle-stiffness: a simple ¾ inch / 2 cm heel was the solution and releases the tension of my Achilles.
My mum was right about sturdy and solid, I find I need some ankle-support if I’m going for proper hikes. I LOVE walking in hiking shoes because they simply are really comfy – I can walk around for days without any troubles.
I walk in Lowa Renegade hiking shoes, which offer great ankle support and are slightly elevated. I actually have thicker insoles now, to lighten the heel-pain, and they easily fit.
But for the simple city exploring (& for taking lovely photos) I rather not wear those bulky shoes!
For simple city shoes, I go to a normal shoe store. I have a sort of checklist to check if they will work.
I make sure to get shoes that have heels of at least ¾ inch / 2 cm, and support my ankles (don’t have to be tight). I also press the back of the heel to check if they will be strong enough (my heels press outwards when I walk).
For me, normal sport shoes DO NOT work because they are too flat. I need high heel sport shoes (but I have to admit: I don’t sport).
My Insoles & SANDALS!
I’m based in Europe, in the Netherlands. I get my insoles custom-made by a podiatrist and I highly recommend this.
The insoles are made for my feet, to correct my posture, and because of my insoles, I can wear any shoe I want and still get the right support from my insoles (in combination with the elevated heels and ankle support).
In the Netherlands, I use Hallux Practices, a partnership between podiatrists all over the Netherlands. Hallux’s vision is to make the world healthier and happier – and well, that resonates with me!
These podiatrists treat people with foot complaints or complaints regarding posture and movement system (knees/hips/lower back), stemming from abnormal functioning and/or deviating position of the feet.
Insoles can be the solution to correct this, but sometimes shoe-advice or exercises are enough to resolve the pain. So amongst other things, they make amazing insoles. The insoles are classy (you can even pick colors) and fit in nearly all shoes (depending on the insole though).
Wherever you are located: go find a podiatrist nearby to get you your insoles. NOTE: this is only a suggestion for people who wear regular shoes and still experience pain. If you need orthopedic shoes, I’m NOT suggesting switching to insoles.
The BIG problem with insoles is, you can never wear sandals. And believe me; on a nice stroll on the beaches in Thailand (& an average of 33° Celsius, 91 °F) you really hate closed toe shoes.
So when my Hallux podiatrist launched her partnership with FITS Footwear I got so excited. I know orthopedic shoes don’t have to be ugly nowadays, but well, they often are.
So I never thought about getting customized sandals before, until this opportunity arose. FITS offers models much like Birkenstock (aren’t I lucky those weird shoes are hot right now) and my podiatrist can simply send the design of my insoles to FITS, and they make the sandal with my insoles.
FITS collaborates with many Dutch and Belgium foot specialists, so having them made was never this easy.
My order took a while though, as I ordered them in summer (busy time!), but it was all worth the wait. The sandals are comfy and classy and my toes were never this happy: FRESH AIR!
Wherever you are located: make sure to check the options with your podiatrist! I know there are other options like sticky insoles. Call podiatrists nearby to ask what they recommend.
Thank you for reading my incredibly personal story. My feet used to be one of my biggest insecurities. But I’m so happy that they got me where I am today.
If you’re still struggling with your search for the perfect shoes, or want to share your story, please comment below!
Connect with other adults
Over time, I’ve had great responses to this article and I decided to open a Facebook group for adults with clubfoot. Because my experience is not everyone else’s experience. I believe we can learn from, help, and support each other. Join the community on Facebook.
You can also find me on my Instagram account @maartjehensen and send me a DM!
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Wednesday 17th of August 2022
Thank you for writing and sharing this article. My 7 year old has unilateral talipes and always struggles with typical school shoes, even wide fit shoes. I wonder if barefoot shoes might work? I will definitely look into insoles.
Roxanne & Maartje
Wednesday 31st of August 2022
Thanks for your comment Sarah! The only way to figure it out is to try! Let me know what the experience is!
Sunday 13th of March 2022
Thank you for sharing your story, my son was born with talipes and he was (4weeks old) placed into full plaster casts from groin to toes for 6mths, then had his 1st operation which wasn't successful and so after healing he received his second operation (8mths) on his archilles tendon, 2nd was better but his right foot was still turned in and he constantly tripped as a result. (Still to this day 16yrs later he has problems with his feet, legs, calves, and hips..his mobility, he just wants to be like his peers but can't) After the 2 surgeries he was placed into bar and boots (ponsetti treatment) whereby he was in this steel bar leather strapped boots for 23hrs a day, then eventually down to bedtime only. My son could eventually get rid of the bar and boots he detested at almost 4yrs old. He was allowed to throw them in the bin by his orthopaedic consultant. Such a Traumatic time, which has impacted my son. Ponsetti was a "new treatment" but my son and a local girl who we have kept contact, as we were taking our kids to get treatment, (for what I was told after his birth was bit of pyshio! It was all a huge shock and many tears) the wee local girl and my son are still suffering from this new treatment.
Roxanne & Maartje
Monday 14th of March 2022
Thank you for sharing this story, so sorry to hear about the traumatic experiences and suffering. I hope your kid will grow into a great human and learns more about what works for him. While society may tell us something else, I think it can be a strength to be 'different'. I'm very glad to hear he's had a friend throughout the process. Wish you all the best!
Saturday 29th of January 2022
Hi! Thanks for sharing! I was born with one clubfoot which gives me discomfort after alot of use. It may also have significantly contributed to a knee problem in my other leg which compensates for my weaker calf.
I'm wondering what you do indoors? Do you wear slippers or pad around in socks?
Roxanne & Maartje
Monday 31st of January 2022
Hi Andrew! Indoors I wear slippers, yes. As a kid, I had Birkenstock slippers as 'indoor' shoes, but now I don't. If I am standing for a longer time (i.e. cooking) I do decide to wear my shoes with insoles, as I feel my feet hurt more otherwise.
Thursday 6th of January 2022
Hi ! I was born with clubbed feet also & saw that you & some of the other women are able to wear high heels & point your feet .. I’m in my early 20s & have always felt left out because can’t easily wear them . I wanted to know , have you always been able to wear them or do you do exercises to strengthen you feet & ankles ? I’ve been recently trying to strengthen my feet to see if any flexibility will come over time . ??
Roxanne & Maartje
Monday 24th of January 2022
Hi Bebe! Sorry to hear! I think ballet has strengthened my ankles a lot, but it might be that my feet and ankles were able to do it anyways. Hope your exercising helps!!
Thursday 25th of November 2021
Wow, I relate soooo much with your post, it's like you have the exact same story as mine! I might as well have write this lol hiking shoes are the best , i would like soo much to wear high heels wich I cannot because one of my feet tends to bend on the side so I need wide not so high heels if I want to wear some, thanks a lot to you for sharing your story, I feel less alone with my feet pain xox
Roxanne & Maartje
Monday 29th of November 2021
Hi Bianca, thank you so much for your comment. It means so much!!