Background: Although long-term follow-up studies have shown favorable results, in terms of foot function, after treatment of idiopathic clubfoot with serial manipulations and casts, we know of no long-term follow-up studies of patients in whom clubfoot was treated with an extensive surgical soft-tissue release.
Methods: Forty-five patients (seventy-three feet) in whom idiopathic clubfoot was treated with either a posterior release and plantar fasciotomy (eight patients) or an extensive combined posterior, medial, and lateral release (thirty-seven patients) were followed for a mean of thirty years. Patients were evaluated with detailed examination of the lower extremities, a radiographic evaluation that included grading of osteoarthritis, and three independent quality-of-life questionnaires, including the Short Form-36 Medical Outcomes Study.
Results: At the time of follow-up, the majority of patients in both treatment groups had significant limitation of foot function, which was consistent across the three independent quality-of-life questionnaires. No significant difference between groups was noted with regard to the results of the quality-of-life measures, the range of motion of the ankle or the position of the heel, or the radiographic findings. Six patients who had been treated with only one surgical procedure had better ranges of motion of the ankle and subtalar joints (p < 0.004) than those who had had multiple surgical procedures.
Conclusions: Many patients with clubfoot treated with an extensive soft-tissue release have poor long-term foot function. We found a correlation between the extent of the soft-tissue release and the degree of functional impairment. Repeated soft-tissue releases can result in a stiff, painful, and arthritic foot and significantly impaired quality of life.