What is Charcot Foot? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Well Heeled

What exactly is Charcot Foot?

Good foot health is something we all take for granted until we don’t have it any more. Although we use our feet most of the day, we hardly ever give them a second thought. This is unfortunate since our feet can often show us signals of underlying health conditions. By adopting healthy habits that include foot care, we can boost our foot health and spot symptoms of unknown health complications early on. Well Heeled looks at one of these such foot problems.

So What is Charcot foot?

People who suffer from peripheral neuropathy might be affected further with a rare and severe health condition called Charcot foot. It is most common amongst people who have diabetes mellitus.

It is a pretty serious complication as it can affect the ankle or foot’s soft tissues, joints, and bones. As a result, the bones weaken and break easily. In addition, the ankle or foot’s joints can dislocate easily.

If ignored, Charcot foot can result in a collapsed or deformed foot. This will result in pressure sores developing in the ankle or foot. If left untreated, pressure sores might lead to infections and result in amputation. Therefore, it is fair to say that Charcot foot can lead to severe health complications.

As mentioned above, Charcot foot can develop in those who have peripheral neuropathy, which is a condition where there is nerve damage in the feet and lower legs. As a result, there is a loss of sensation in the feet and legs.
What are the symptoms and causes of Charcot foot?

Early on, the foot will appear red and feel warm. There might also be a significant amount of swelling around the foot. However, it is complicated for health professionals to diagnose Charcot foot in its early stages. Most commonly, a podiatrist will have an X-ray of the foot taken if Charcot foot is suspected. Some laboratory tests might be done, too. If the tests and X-rays appear normal, the podiatrist will assume that the condition is Charcot foot based on the person’s symptoms who have peripheral neuropathy and diabetes.

What causes Charcot foot?

Although a single cause for the condition hasn’t been found, some conditions increase the odds of getting Charcot foot. Commonly, it starts with a person who has peripheral neuropathy that sprains or injures the foot without realizing it because of the lack of feeling in the foot or ankle.

Naturally, if an injury or broken bone is ignored and not treated, it can lead to deformity in the foot and cause infection or sores.

The condition has been found in people with diabetes who received an organ transplantation. Unfortunately, the administered drugs that help prevent the rejection of the organ have the side effect of increasing fractures and bone loss.

The effect of Charcot foot on the foot depends on where on the foot the bone breaks. If it happens midfoot, it will result in a collapsing arch, and so, the foot’s bottom will round, which is called rocker-bottom foot deformity. On the other hand, if the deformity happens higher on the foot, it can result in curvy and clawlike toe-positioning. Lastly, if it occurs on the back of the foot, it can result in a deformed and very unstable ankle.

How is it treated?

If Charcot foot is diagnosed early and treated, deformity and other complications can be avoided. Although treatment can be tricky, it focuses on three goals to help the foot:

Avoiding excessive weight on the foot
Treating any form of bone disease
Preventing new fractures or breaks in the foot

Depending on the severity of the condition, a podiatrist might choose to administer non-surgical treatment or decide on surgery.

What are the non-surgical treatments for Charcot foot?

After the diagnosis of Charcot foot, the first and most pressing form of treatment is taking the weight off of the foot. This is often called offloading. Doing this helps with the prevention of inflammation and deformity while decreasing the odds of the condition worsening. Often offloading is achieved by creating a cast for the foot. A cast will keep the foot still and protect it from further injuries. However, a podiatrist can recommend a walker boot instead of a cast when the condition isn’t as severe. It is usual for the cast or walker boot to be used for two or three months. However, the time will be extended if the swelling and redness haven’t improved when the cast is removed.

If the redness and swelling have improved, a podiatrist will prescribe specialized orthopedic footwear. In addition, the podiatrist will discuss suitable activities for the patient that won’t cause any risk of the condition worsening.

What are the surgical treatments for Charcot foot?

If a patient is suffering from severe foot and ankle deformities that make it impossible for orthotics or braces to be worn, a podiatrist might recommend surgery. The patient will be required to keep all weight off the foot after the surgery for some time.

Everyone who has Charcot foot should only wear specialized orthopedic footwear and stay focused on good foot care for the rest of their lives. This way, future complications can be avoided.

What can be done to avoid Charcot foot?

Here are a few things that people with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy can do to minimize the risk of getting Charcot foot:

Examining the feet daily for any signs of injury or infection
Seeing a podiatrist regularly
Quit smoking
Keeping blood sugar levels stable
Monitor blood pressure
Do activities that are safe and won’t cause injury. Swimming is an excellent example of a workout with several health benefits that doesn’t put any strain on the feet.
Investing in specialized orthopedic footwear


Although Charcot foot is a severe condition that can have extreme consequences, it can be avoided by taking good care of your feet. If you have diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, you need to see your podiatrist frequently and do daily foot checks. By doing this, you give yourself peace of mind and keep your feet healthy and strong.

For more information on other foot related problems such as diabetes, don’t forget to check out our blog page for more information such as on type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

About Me

Founder of Well Heeled - I have a great interest in diabetes and the effect on those diagnosed as well as those around them. With over 20 years in health and social care, as a qualified social worker and as a passionate educator within the health and social care sector, I wanted to bring further information to others around diabetes and other issues.

Leave a comment