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 Roxanne, who can literally hike on flip-flops if she wanted to. Yes, I am fortunate I don’t have to wear orthopaedic 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…
In this article
What is CTEV aka Club Foot?
Club foot 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, club foot (and especially the Dutch translation) isn’t such a great term. Since club foot 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 club foot and males are affected twice as often as females.
I’m one very special gal because I was born with bilateral club foot (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 club foot 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 a few weeks 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 orthopaedist 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.
Living (and Travelling!) with the Outcome of Club Foot
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 was treated on some insoles (eeeew, so unsexy, right?). These helped me correct my posture – as the clubfoot treatment overcompensated a bit and I, therefore, got flat feet (yaaas, also incredibly sexy). Very late in my teenage years I finally figured out flat shoes was causing my persistent heel-pain and ankle-stiffness: a simple 2cm heel was the solution and releases the tension of my Achilles.
Even Better: I can Wear the Shoes I Want!
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 – just like the ones you see grandma wearing. They didn’t fit in all shoes, so my choice was always limited.
My mum was right about sturdy and solid though, 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. But for the simple city exploring (& for taking lovely photos) I rather not wear those bulky shoes!
Hallux Podiatry, my Sexy Insoles & SANDALS!
Then, I found out about 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 colours) and fit in nearly all shoes (depending on the insole though).
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, 91.4°F) you really hate closed toe shoes. So when my Hallux podiatrist (in Amsterdam) launched her partnership with FITS Footwear I got so excited. I know orthopaedic shoes don’t have to be ugly nowadays, but well, they often are. So I never thought about getting customised sandals before, until this opportunity arose. FITS offers models much like Birkenstocks (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!