The Charcot foot: pathophysiology, diagnosis and classification

Bone Joint J. 2016 Sep;98-B(9):1155-9. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.98B9.37038.


Neuropathic changes in the foot are common with a prevalence of approximately 1%. The diagnosis of neuropathic arthropathy is often delayed in diabetic patients with harmful consequences including amputation. The appropriate diagnosis and treatment can avoid an extensive programme of treatment with significant morbidity for the patient, high costs and delayed surgery. The pathogenesis of a Charcot foot involves repetitive micro-trauma in a foot with impaired sensation and neurovascular changes caused by pathological innervation of the blood vessels. In most cases, changes are due to a combination of both pathophysiological factors. The Charcot foot is triggered by a combination of mechanical, vascular and biological factors which can lead to late diagnosis and incorrect treatment and eventually to destruction of the foot. This review aims to raise awareness of the diagnosis of the Charcot foot (diabetic neuropathic osteoarthropathy and the differential diagnosis, erysipelas, peripheral arterial occlusive disease) and describe the ways in which the diagnosis may be made. The clinical diagnostic pathways based on different classifications are presented. Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2016;98-B:1155-9.

Keywords: Charcot; Diagnosis; Foot; Neuropathy; Pathophysiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / classification*
  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / diagnosis*
  • Arthropathy, Neurogenic / therapy
  • Diabetic Foot / classification*
  • Diabetic Foot / diagnosis*
  • Diabetic Foot / therapy
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Foot Deformities, Acquired / classification
  • Foot Deformities, Acquired / diagnosis
  • Foot Deformities, Acquired / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods