Understanding Charcot Foot
Also known as Charcot arthropathy or Charcot joint disease, Charcot foot is a medical condition that attacks the soft tissue, joints, and bones in the feet, often causing these bones to fracture. Diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathy have decreased pain sensation and often won’t realize that a bone in their foot has been broken. Charcot foot will develop if the patient continues to walk on the fracture causing an abnormal shape in the foot known as a “rocker-bottom” foot deformity that is debilitating and very painful.
If you suffer from diabetic neuropathy and lose feeling in your lower extremities, you face a higher risk of developing Charcot foot. It is important for Charcot Foot to be detected early, so treatment can be administered before permanent damage is done. Foot deformities can lead to other issue, such as pressure sores, infections, and sometimes amputation.
Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Charcot Foot
The primary cause of Charcot foot is peripheral neuropathy. This condition, most commonly caused by diabetes, reduces a patient’s ability to sense temperature, trauma, or pain in their extremities. They may experience weakness and numbness in their hands and/or feet due to nerve damage. Additionally, neuropathic patients who have a tight Achilles tendon are at a higher risk of developing Charcot foot. In rare cases, it can be caused by other health conditions.
Because a diabetic patient with peripheral neuropathy will likely not feel pain in their feet, it can be very difficult to catch Charcot Foot early. That’s why it’s important to watch for signs of this condition that include:
- Abnormal swelling in one or both feet
- Visible redness on the top of the foot
- Skin that feels warm to the touch, especially when one foot is comparatively hotter in temperature to the other
However, these are also the symptoms of more common and much less serious conditions, so unless you are examined by a skilled podiatrist, Charcot foot can often be misdiagnosed. A podiatrist will have an X-ray and lab work done to confirm.
Treating Charcot Foot
Charcot foot is a challenging condition. A patient’s toes may curl, their ankles become unsteady, and arches collapse. Early treatment is important to avoid all permanent damage. If you have been diagnosed with this disease, you will have three treatment goals:
- Take the weight off the affected foot
- Treat the bone break
- Prevent new fractures
Non-surgical treatment is usually the first course of action. You will be asked to rest and keep weight off the foot. This is called offloading. Offloading prevents further inflammation and allows your bone fracture time to heal. A doctor will often cast the affected foot for 8 to 12 weeks to ensure no weight is placed on it. Following the offloading period, you may be given a walking boot to ease back into weight-bearing walking. After you’re out of the boot, you will likely be prescribed custom orthopedic footwear that relieves pressure points and prevents future injury. One popular device is known as a Charcot Restraint Orthotic Walker (CROW).
If Charcot foot progresses and needs further treatment, surgery might be required. Surgery may be necessary for those who have:
- Foot ulcers
- Visible deformities
- Injuries to the foot that do not allow for the use of braces or orthotics
The surgeon will attempt to right any foot deformities and repair bone fractures. Surgery can be very successful in treating Charcot foot; however, it does not always fix the problem. Those who undergo surgery may still need custom shoes and frequent health maintenance throughout their life.
Life After Charcot Foot
If you are having foot problems and suspect you have Charcot foot, contact Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists. We have treated many cases of Charcot foot, and we can help you. Call us to set up an appointment to ensure your greatest chance of healing.
Are You Looking for a Charcot Foot Specialist in Austin, TX?
If you are looking for Charcot foot care, you should reach out to an experienced podiatrist. Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists can help. Our office provides a wide variety of advanced, effective treatment options for all kinds of painful conditions. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact us online or call our Austin office at 512.328.8900.