Charcot neuro-osteoarthropathy-current standards

Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2008 May-Jun:24 Suppl 1:S58-61. doi: 10.1002/dmrr.846.


It is extremely important to have a high index of suspicion for Charcot neuro-osteoarthropathy (CN) and to encourage early presentation of the patient. This should be followed by a rapid diagnosis and early intervention, and with such a modern approach many CN can now be healed and deformity prevented. CN can be divided into two phases: acute active phase and chronic stable phase. The acute active phase includes those patients presenting early with normal X-ray and those presenting later with deformity and radiological changes of CN. The acute phase is characterized by unilateral erythema and oedema. The foot is at least 2 degrees C hotter than the contralateral foot. Patients should have initially an X-ray examination which, at this time, may be normal. We then proceed to two investigations: initially a technetium diphosphonate bone scan, which will detect early evidence of bone damage and also locate the site of this damage. If the result of the bone scan is positive, we would proceed to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examination, which would describe in more detail the nature of the bony damage. The aim of treatment is immobilization in a plaster cast until there is no longer evidence on X-ray of continuing bone destruction, and the foot temperature is within 2 degrees C of the contralateral foot. An alternative treatment is a prefabricated walking cast, such as the Aircast. A randomized controlled study of a single 90 mg pamidronate infusion has shown a significant reduction of the markers of bone turnover and skin temperature in treated, compared with control subjects although the fall in skin temperature was similar in both groups. There was a similar finding in a recent study with alendronate. Calcitonin has also been used in the acute stage and there was a more rapid transition to the stable chronic phase in the treated group compared with controls. In the chronic stable phase, the foot is no longer warm and red. There may still be oedema but the difference in skin temperature between the feet is usually less than 2 degrees C. The X-ray shows fracture healing, sclerosis and bone remodelling. The patient must now be rehabilitated and gradually moved from cast treatment to suitable footwear. The patient needs close observation to detect any relapse, which will be evident from further swelling and heat in the foot. Careful rehabilitation is always necessary after a long period in a cast.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / epidemiology
  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / physiopathology*
  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / rehabilitation
  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / therapy
  • Casts, Surgical
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Edema / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis / epidemiology
  • Osteoarthritis / physiopathology*
  • Walkers*