If the bones in your feet broke suddenly, you would notice. The sharp pain and immediate weakness in your foot would severely impair your ability to walk. If you had a condition that deadened your nerves, however, and the deterioration in your joints happened over a longer period of time, you might not notice the problem until the damage was catastrophic. Charcot joint disease is one of those quiet, sneaky conditions that can wreak havoc on your feet if you aren’t paying attention. If caught and treated early, though, you can prevent it from becoming disabling.
Charcot joint disease occurs along with neuropathy—the loss of sensation in your feet—which most often develops from diabetes, but could be caused by another condition that impairs the nervous system. This destructive disease can begin spontaneously, or may begin with an injury to the foot or ankle. The original injury might even have been too minor to be noticed at the time. However it starts, it causes a breakdown of the cartilage, bone, and connective tissues.
It then progresses until the bones in the foot or ankle fracture or fragment, causing collapsed arches that can develop sores and make it difficult to wear normal shoes. The hallmark signs are a red, hot swollen foot. If you have mysterious, painless swelling in your foot or ankle, accompanied by a grinding sound and warmth or redness, it’s important to see Drs. Joel W. Brook and David R. Northcutt promptly. Ignoring it could lead to a deformed, nearly useless foot, or even amputation.
Because diabetes and some other medical conditions can cause loss of sensation in the feet, you may never have realized your foot suffered an injury to the joints; and because you may have continued your normal activities, it’s possible that you fractured or dislocated bones in your foot or ankle but never felt pain. If you have Charcot disease, X-rays will reveal fragmentation of the bone and abnormal joints. Frequently, patients are also tested for infection or blood clots, as these other conditions can have similar signs and symptoms but result in different problems.
If your podiatrist diagnoses Charcot disease, the affected joint will need to be immobilized with a brace or cast as it heals. You’ll have to stay completely off your foot to avoid additional damage, so you will need to use crutches or a knee-walker to get around. Your podiatrist will continue to X-ray the area to follow the progress of your healing. As your bones recover, you will gradually be able to place weight on the foot again.
If the condition goes undiagnosed, the affected area may develop a deformity. This could become debilitating and limit your mobility. If this is already true in your case, you may need prescription orthotics or shoes to prevent ulcers and help stabilize your joints. In severe cases, reconstructive surgery may be required to correct the deformity and prevent amputation of the lower limb.
If you or someone you care about are at risk for neuropathy, or already are affected by it, don’t ignore any changes or uncomfortable warming in your feet. You might be developing deterioration from Charcot joint disease. Don’t risk the damage that can result from this condition. Instead, contact Dallas Podiatry Works now for an appointment or more information. You can reach us by visiting the online contact page or by calling one of our two Texas offices: for our Dallas location, call (972) 566-7474; to reach our Plano office, call (972) 943-3323.