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What is Charcot foot?

Early treatment is important for this complication of diabetes.

Charcot foot is a problem often associated with nerve damage caused by diabetes.

Nerve damage contributes to Charcot foot by causing a loss of sensation. As a result, people may continue to walk or put pressure on the foot even after an injury such as a sprained ankle. This may cause damage to muscles and bones. Eventually, the arch of the foot may collapse.

In time the foot may heal on its own, but because of the breakdown of the foot structure, it may be deformed.

Fortunately, early diagnosis and treatment can help. That's why it's important for people who are at risk for Charcot foot to try to prevent the disease and to report any foot trouble to their doctors right away, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).

Symptoms to look for

According to the American Diabetes Association and ACFAS, symptoms of Charcot foot include:

  • Foot feeling warm to the touch.
  • Redness.
  • Swelling.
  • Pain or soreness.
  • Lack of feeling in the foot.

These symptoms can appear after a sudden trauma to the foot, such as dropping an object on it or spraining it. They can also appear after minor repetitive trauma, like a long walk.

Early diagnosis is important

Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to prevent complications from Charcot foot. If you have diabetes, let your doctor know about any problems with your feet right away.

Diagnosis will include physical examination and X-rays of the foot. If Charcot foot is the culprit, your doctor will create a treatment plan to prevent further damage and promote healing.

Treatment

Treatment for Charcot foot includes the following:

Cast immobilization. For protection, the affected foot will be fitted with a regular cast, removable boot cast or brace.

Rest. You'll need to avoid all weight-bearing activities, including walking, in order to keep the foot from breaking down any further and allow the bones to heal.

Surgery. An ankle and foot surgeon can determine the procedure that is best, if surgery is suggested. For example, surgery may be done to rebuild the foot.

Custom shoes or bracing. After the foot has healed, you may need special shoes to allow you to return to normal activity. These shoes are equipped with custom orthotic insoles that help prevent ulcers and recurrence of Charcot foot.

Prevention

Once you've had Charcot foot you will have to take special precautions to prevent it from happening again. ACFAS offers these tips:

  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for long-term treatment.
  • Get regular foot checkups.
  • Protect your feet. Avoid bumping your foot or overdoing exercise.
  • Check your feet every day, and tell your doctor if you notice any problems.
  • If you have diabetes, keep blood glucose levels under control. This will help prevent nerve damage.

Following these tips can also help you prevent Charcot foot and its complications from the start.

Reviewed 9/28/2021

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