Charcot foot is a disease that causes weakness of the bones and joints. It commonly affects the middle of the foot, the hindfoot joint, and the ankle and forefoot joints.

Charcot foot, also known as Charcot disease, is a condition that affects the bones and joints in the feet.

Charcot foot usually occurs as a result of diabetes or peripheral neuropathy. It may be present in up to 13% of people with diabetes.

This article provides further details about Charcot foot, including information about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

A person with Charcot foot may experience the following symptoms in one or both of their feet:

  • discoloration
  • significant swelling
  • the foot being warm to the touch
  • change in foot shape
  • painful sores

A person with Charcot foot usually also has diabetes, as well as peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes damage to the nervous symptom. Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot use it effectively.

Diabetes is the main cause of Charcot foot. Diabetes can lead to peripheral neuropathy, which is necessary for Charcot foot to develop.

A 2015 study suggests that people are at higher risk of developing Charcot foot if they:

A 2016 Malaysian study involving 100 people with diabetes compared those with and without Charcot foot.

The researchers found that those with prior foot problems, including ulcers, amputation, or foot surgery, were more likely to develop Charcot foot. The authors list other risk factors as:

  • age below 60 years
  • having had diabetes for more than 10 years
  • having kidney issues

Charcot foot may cause a person’s foot to become out of shape. This can result in the person being unable to place weight on it.

Due to these foot abnormalities, people may develop ulcers in areas where the bone presses against a shoe or the floor. These ulcers may become infected.

In some severe cases, amputation of the foot may be necessary.

Learn more about foot amputation in diabetes.

Charcot foot may be difficult to diagnose. This is because imaging tests, such as X-rays, often do not show Charcot foot in the early stages. However, in the later stages, X-rays may help diagnose the condition.

A doctor may sometimes diagnose Charcot foot by sight after speaking with the person about their symptoms and medical history. Doctors will also assess the foot for any:

  • abnormalities
  • ulcers
  • blood flow problems
  • loss of sensation

A bone scan may confirm whether an infection is present and reveal its location.

There is a risk of doctors missing or misdiagnosing Charcot foot.

According to a 2018 review, doctors miss up to 79% of cases. People may also receive an incorrect diagnosis of:

A 2022 review suggests that 53.2% of people with Charcot foot experience a delay in diagnosis.

The earlier a person receives treatment, the less likely it is that they will have serious complications, such as ulcers or infections.

Depending on the severity, the treatments for Charcot foot may include both surgical and nonsurgical options.


People with no infections or ulcers will more than likely receive a nonsurgical treatment plan.

Nonsurgical treatment for Charcot foot involves keeping weight off the affected foot to relieve pain and inflammation and protect the foot from further damage, infection, or ulcer development.

Sometimes, a person may receive a cast or boot to protect the foot. They may also need to use a wheelchair or crutches to help keep weight off the foot for several months or more.

After the healing process, a doctor may recommend special shoes to support the foot.


The surgical procedure that a doctor chooses will depend on each case.

For example, a person may need surgery if their foot changes shape. The surgeon may need to rearrange the bones and joints or remove some bones so that the person can put weight on their foot again.

If the reshaping procedure does not work, it may be necessary to consider limb amputation.

A small 2018 study involving 62 people with Charcot foot reported an amputation rate of 25.7%.

Additionally, a debridement procedure may be necessary for the removal of ulcers. This surgery destroys dead skin and cleans the ulcer to prevent further infection.

It is not possible for people with diabetes to prevent Charcot foot. However, if doctors diagnose and treat it early, the condition is less likely to cause severe problems.

A person with diabetes should regularly check in with their doctor to avoid complications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person with diabetes can look after their feet by:

  • checking them every day for:
  • washing them daily in warm water and applying lotion
  • wearing shoes or socks instead of having bare feet
  • wearing well-fitted shoes
  • trimming the toenails straight across
  • seeking professional help to remove corns or calluses
  • getting regular foot checkups
  • putting the feet up when sitting to aid the blood flow
  • choosing suitable forms of exercise

The CDC recommends that people with diabetes consult a doctor if they develop any of the following:

  • leg or foot pain
  • cramping in areas such as the buttocks, thighs, or calves during physical activity
  • a tingling or burning sensation in the feet
  • loss of sensation
  • loss of hair on the:
    • feet
    • toes
    • lower legs
  • dry or cracked skin on the feet
  • shape, color, or temperature changes in the feet
  • yellow or thickened toenails
  • fungus infections between the toes
  • ingrown toenails
  • infected corns
  • blisters, sores, or ulcers

Learn more about diabetes-related foot problems.

Charcot foot usually occurs in people with diabetes. It may cause symptoms such as discoloration, swelling, and ulcers.

Surgery may be necessary if an infection or abnormality is present. If doctors catch it in the early stages, nonsurgical intervention may be a solution. However, Charcot foot may be difficult to diagnose.

A person with diabetes should have frequent foot checkups with a healthcare professional, check their own feet regularly, and take steps to care for them appropriately.