Charcot Foot: A Potentially Severe Joint Disease

Patients with diabetes are at increased risk of various joint and bone disorders. Some problems that are associated with diabetes contribute to these conditions – for example, diabetic neuropathy and arterial disease. However, even in those with diabetes, often the cause isn’t so clear.

Charcot Joint Begins with Nerve Damage

A Charcot joint occurs when the joint deteriorates because of nerve damage. This deterioration is also called neuropathic arthropathy and most often affects the feet. This condition causes serious weakening of the foot bones in patients with nerve damage, or neuropathy. In fact, the bones are so weak that they easily fracture. Patients with a tight Achilles tendon are also at risk of developing Charcot joint.

Because of the neuropathy, the patient may not feel the bone damage and so will continue walking on the damaged foot, causing the foot to change its shape. Over time the foot joints actually collapse.

Charcot foot is a serious condition and patients with neuropathy, including those with diabetes, must be watchful for its symptoms. Be alert for loss of sensation in the foot joints, or numbness or tingling. The foot may appear red or warm to the touch, or may be swollen, deformed or unstable.

Diagnosing and Treating Charcot Foot

Early diagnosis of Charcot foot is important before serious damage occurs to the joints. Left untreated, the deformity of Charcot foot can worsen leading to disability and even amputation.

At Your Next Step we will give your feet a comprehensive examination and take x-rays right in our office. We will begin with conservative treatments including:

  • Immobilizing the foot and ankle so the weakened bones repair themselves. It’s essential that the patient not put weight on the foot. A removable boot or cast will be applied and a wheelchair or crutches may be necessary. The bones may take several months to heal.
  • Wearing custom shoes after the bones have healed. These specially-fitted shoes with inserts will allow the patient to return to normal activities and help prevent ulcers and possible amputation. Bracing may be required in the case of severe deformity.
  • Modifying activities to protect the feet from trauma.

During treatment we will carefully monitor your healing with x-rays and examination of the other foot, which will be subject to increased pressure.

Surgery may be required if the Charcot deformity becomes severe.

Preventing Charcot Foot

Patients at risk of developing this condition can slow the progression of nerve damage in the feet by working to keep blood sugar levels under control. Both feet should be thoroughly checked daily at home and also inspected regularly by a foot doctor. It’s important to avoid injuring the foot and don’t overdo any workouts.

To minimize the risk of serious complications like amputation, please call Dr. Eric Ricefield, Dr. Mark Yagodich and Dr. Aliza V. Eisen, board certified and qualified podiatrists if you see any symptoms consistent with Charcot foot. You can find contact information at the website for our Ardmore, Paoli and Downingtown offices. Don’t delay – call today.

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