If you have diabetes, you face the possibility of developing many foot problems, including ulcers, non-healing sores, and even amputation. But, there’s another condition you should know about and watch out for: Charcot foot.
Also called Charcot arthropathy, this condition weakens the bones in the feet of people who have peripheral neuropathy. It also attacks the joints and soft tissues. Over time, it can cause painful sores and actually change the shape of your foot.
Why does Charcot foot happen?
Your bones naturally lose calcium when injured, and, according to the Cleveland Clinic, that makes the bones weaker and more susceptible to further damage. The numbness from peripheral neuropathy increases the danger. If you can’t feel a sprain, a break, or an infected or lingering sore, you’re more likely to continue walking on your foot normally. In some cases, slow healing from a foot surgery can be responsible.
Prompted by injury that often doesn’t get timely treatment, your bones lose the calcium that keeps them strong. At that point, your foot can start to lose its shape, and your arch can drop below your toes or heel. Doctors often call this “rocker bottom.”
Additionally, your toes might curl, and your ankle can become twisted and unsteady. Any misshapen bones can also press against your shoes, creating new sores that can also get infected and lead to amputation.
What to look for?
Diagnosing Charcot foot can be difficult, according to a study published in American Family Physician, because it mimics other conditions, including cellulitis and blood clots. Initial X-rays and lab tests can also often look normal.
However, there are some symptoms, other than the fallen arch, that can make you suspect Charcot foot. If your foot becomes reddish, warm to the touch, or swollen, talk with you doctor. You should also be concerned if you have instability in your ankle, any misalignment of the bones that form the joint, or a strong pulse in your foot.
Can you prevent it?
Yes, you can do things to potentially side-step Charcot foot. Follow this list for better foot health:
- Get regular check-ups with a foot doctor who has experience treating diabetic foot problems.
- Check your feet daily for swelling, redness, warm spots, and sores. Check between your toes, too.
- Wash your feet daily, and dry them thoroughly.
- Always wear socks and shoes.
- Keep your blood sugar levels under control — between 80-130 mg/dL before eating, under 180 mg/dL after.
- Take extra care to avoid injury, particularly while exercising.
Overall, if you begin to see these changes in your feet — especially if your foot begins to change shape — contact your doctor immediately. Any delays can result in further damage to your foot that could lead to infection or amputation.
For questions, please contact Amputation Prevention Centers of America.