What Is Charcot Foot?
Charcot foot is a sudden softening of the bones in the foot that can occur in people who have significant nerve damage (neuropathy). The bones are weakened enough to fracture, and with continued walking the foot eventually changes shape. As the disorder progresses, the arch collapses and the foot takes on a convex shape, giving it a rocker-bottom appearance, making it very difficult to walk.

Charcot foot is a very serious condition that can lead to severe deformity, disability, and even amputation. Because of its seriousness, it is important that patients with diabetes—a disease often associated with neuropathy—take preventive measures and seek immediate care if signs or symptoms appear.

SymptomsThe symptoms of Charcot foot can appear after a sudden trauma or even a minor repetitive trauma (such as a long walk).A sudden trauma includes such mishaps as dropping something on the foot, or a sprain or fracture of the foot. The symptoms of Charcot foot are similar to those of infection.Although Charcot foot and infection are different conditions, both are serious problems requiring medical treatment. Charcot foot symptoms may include:

What Causes Charcot Foot?
Charcot foot develops as a result of neuropathy,which decreases sensation and the ability to feel temperature, pain, or trauma. When neuropathy is severe, there is a total lack of feeling in the feet. Because of neuropathy, the pain of an injury goes unnoticed and the patient continues to walk— making the injury worse.

People with neuropathy (especially those who have had it for a long time) are at risk for developing Charcot foot. In addition, neuropathic patients with a tight Achilles tendon have been shown to have a tendency to develop Charcot foot.

Diagnosis
Early diagnosis of Charcot foot is extremely important for successful treatment. To arrive at a diagnosis, the surgeon will examine the foot and ankle and ask about events that may have occurred prior to the symptoms.

X-rays are also essential for diagnosis. In some cases, other imaging studies and lab tests may be ordered. Once treatment begins, x-rays are taken periodically to aid in evaluating the status of the condition.

Treatment
It is extremely important to follow the surgeon’s treatment plan for Charcot foot. Failure to do so can lead to the loss of a toe, foot, leg, or life. Treatment for Charcot foot consists of:

Preventive Care
The patient can play a vital role in preventing Charcot foot and its complications by following these measures:

This information has been prepared by the Consumer Education Committee of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, a professional society of 5,700 podiatric foot and ankle surgeons. Members of the College are Doctors of Podiatric Medicine who have received additional training through surgical residency programs. The mission of the College is to promote superior care of foot and ankle surgical patients through education, research and the promotion of the highest professional standards.  Copyright © 2004, American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, www.acfas.org