Charcot foot is a degenerative condition that will progressively worsen over time if treatment is not administered. Commonly associated with nerve damage, this condition results in reduced sensation and decreased muscular reflexes in the affected foot. Frequent injuries and traumas tend to occur to the foot as a result of the lack of sensation and this too lends to progressive damage concerning the ligaments, bones, and cartilage in the foot.
Who is at Risk of Developing Charcot Foot?
Charcot foot is most commonly experienced by people who have been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, partly due to the fact that high levels of glucose in the blood is a trademark cause for neuropathy. Between 60% and 70% of diabetes patients suffer nerve damage that can lead to Charcot foot and approximately 0.5% of those actually do develop the condition. The most prevalent incidence is found in patients over 50 years of age who have had diabetes for over 15 years.
Signs and Symptoms of Charcot Foot
As the nerves in the affected foot start to lose their ability to transmit signals to the brain, the foot becomes increasingly at risk of being injured. Therefore, common signs and symptoms of Charcot foot also involve actual injuries to the foot, including:
- Joint dislocations
- Swelling and redness of the foot and ankle
- Heat and pain insensitivities
- Calluses and/or ulcers
- Muscle weakness
- An audible grating sound when the foot joint is moved (in cases of subluxation)
- Deformity of the foot
- Septic arthritis with fever and malaise (in some cases)
How is Charcot Foot Diagnosed?
Charcot foot is diagnosed by the surgeon taking into account the patient’s current medical status and their family’s medical history. Imaging tests like X-rays may be ordered to help determine the extent of the damage and diagnostic MRIs may also be required in order to differentiate Charcot foot from another condition, like a foot infection. Certain laboratory tests, such as arthrocentesis, may also prove helpful in diagnosing this condition.
Conservative Treatment Options for Charcot Foot
The goals of most Charcot foot treatment plans involve protecting and stabilizing the affected foot. This can involve placing the foot in a walking cast or total contact cast and having the patient use crutches in order to prevent putting weight on the foot. It is important that treatment for the underlying cause of the Charcot foot, namely the diabetes, also be administered and closely monitored during the treatment period, which can last as long as eight weeks.
When is Surgery Needed?
In cases where the foot is severely deformed or the patient is suffering from chronic ulcers on the foot, surgery may be recommended.
Regardless of the case, you surgeon at Pennsylvania Foot and Ankle Associates will discuss all of the conservative and surgical treatment options available to you so you can make the most informed decision about your treatment plan.