Charcot Foot

What is a Charcot foot?

A Charcot foot is a deformed foot that can happen when you have diabetes. The problem can make it hard or impossible for you to walk. Early treatment may help keep the problem from getting severe.

What is the cause?

Charcot foot can happen when you have nerve damage from diabetes (neuropathy). Diabetes can damage small blood vessels and nerves. The nerve damage causes a loss of feeling in your foot. You may no longer feel pain, temperature, or the position of your foot. You may sprain your foot or break a bone in your foot and keep walking on it because you can’t feel that your foot has been hurt. This damages your foot more and keeps it from healing. Over time, this leads to

  • Loose ligaments, which are strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another to form the joints
  • Dislocated bones
  • Damaged cartilage, which is the tissue that lines and cushions the surface of the joints
  • Deformed feet

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms may include redness, swelling, and warmth. If you still have some feeling in your foot, your foot may feel sore. Over time the foot gets misshapen. It may get bad enough that you cannot wear a regular shoe or even walk on your foot because it is too deformed to support your weight or allow you to have good balance.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have X-rays or other scans.

How is it treated?

The nerve damage and loss of feeling will not heal or go away. With treatment you may be able to prevent further damage and stay as mobile as is safely possible. The goals of treatment are to prevent fractures, foot and leg sores, and amputation. To protect your foot, you may need to:

  • Avoid putting any weight on the foot. You may have a cast or brace on your foot and need to avoid walking on the foot. It may take many months for the bones to heal.
  • Wear custom shoes. Shoes designed for Charcot foot give support to the weakened bones and help prevent further injury.
  • Ask your healthcare provider how much weight-bearing activity, like walking, is OK. Activities like bicycling or swimming may be safer for you. Your healthcare provider will help you plan an exercise program that protects your foot.

You may need to have your foot removed (amputated) if:

  • You have sores on your foot that are not healing and could cause a life-threatening infection.
  • Your foot is so badly deformed that you cannot walk on it. If your foot or lower leg is removed and replaced with an artificial foot or leg, you may be able to walk again.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent Charcot foot?

  • Control your diabetes. Try to keep your blood sugar in the range recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Keep your blood pressure at a normal level.
  • Keep your cholesterol (blood fats) at a healthy level.
  • Look at your feet at the end of each day to check for reddened areas, cuts, or scrapes that could get infected. A mirror can help you see all surfaces of your feet, or you can ask someone for help. You can also use your hands to feel for hot areas, bumps, or sore spots.
  • Wash your feet every day with soap and warm (not hot) water. Then dry your feet carefully with a soft towel, especially between the toes. After your feet are dry, put petroleum jelly, lanolin, or a lotion recommended by your provider on your feet to keep the skin soft and smooth. Do not put lotion between your toes because it may keep the skin in that area too moist.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking worsens the effects of diabetes, creates blockages in the blood vessels, and increases your risk of complications. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink because alcohol can cause nerve damage too.
  • Eat a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables (some vitamin deficiencies can cause neuropathy).
  • Don’t treat corns or calluses yourself. These problems should be treated by your healthcare provider or a foot specialist. If your nails are hard to trim, ask your healthcare provider or foot specialist for help.
  • Never walk barefoot. Keep slippers by your bed to use as soon as you get up. Always wear shoes or slippers both indoors and outdoors. This is more important when you walk on rough surfaces. Don’t wear sandals or flip-flops. They don’t protect your feet from injury.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-05
Last reviewed: 2015-01-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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