Charcot Foot: What is It?

The human foot is a beautifully engineered machine made up of 26 bones and 33 joints, and like any machine, with a lot of moving parts, it can develop problems over time.  One of the most serious is a condition called Charcot foot, pronounced shar-koh, in which the bones and joints are weakened and broken to the point that the whole foot is permanently deformed.

Although Charcot foot was identified by doctors over a hundred years ago, the root causes of the condition remain a bit of a medical mystery.  What is known, however, is the risk factors: peripheral neuropathy accompanied with an injury, diabetes, alcoholism, and other conditions that cause neuropathy.

The good news is that if it is identified and treated early, serious damage can be avoided. Conservative treatments include immobilizing the affected foot to prevent weak bones from breaking; restricting pressure applied to the foot; and utilizing custom orthotics to support vulnerable areas on your foot to prevent injury and reduce discomfort.  If the deformity is severe, surgery is recommended.

When should you call your doctor?  If you are diabetic, you should already be seeing a podiatrist regularly and be checking your feet on your own every day.  If you have any of the other risk factors, particularly if you have lost feeling in any part of your feet, you should see a podiatrist at least once a year and call immediately if one foot is warmer to the touch than another, or if you notice a lot of redness or swelling.  If Charcot foot is caught early enough you can halt its progress without surgery—most often by immobilizing and protecting the foot to give weakened bones time to repair themselves, by using custom orthotics to support the foot at key points, and possibly by changing your routine to eliminate activities that could damage fragile bones.

If you have concerns about any changes in your feet contact the experts at the Triad Foot & Ankle Center at one of their three locations in Greensboro, Burlington, and Asheboro, or click here to request an appointment online.

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