The aim of this longitudinal study was to report on the clinical characteristics and treatment course of acute Charcot's arthropathy at a tertiary care diabetic foot clinic. Fifty-five diabetic subjects, with a mean age of 58.6 +/- 8.5 years, were studied. All patients were treated with serial total contact casting until quiescence. Following casting and before transfer to prescription footwear, patients were eased into unprotected weightbearing via a removable cast walker. This cohort was followed for their entire treatment course and for a mean 92.6 +/- 33.7 weeks following return to shoes. Pain was the most frequent presenting complaint in these otherwise insensate patients (76%). The mean duration of casting was 18.5 +/- 10.6 weeks. Patients returned to footwear in a mean 28.3 +/- 14.5 weeks. Nine per cent of the population had bilateral arthropathy. These subjects were casted significantly longer than the unilateral group (p < 0.02). Surgery was performed on 25 % of patients, with approximately two-thirds of these procedures involving plantar exostectomies and one-third fusions of affected joints. Patients receiving surgery remained casted significantly longer than non-surgical patients (p < 0.05). Additionally, men were casted longer than women (p < 0.008). Acute Charcot's arthropathy requires prompt, uncompromising reduction in weightbearing stress. Our data show that the ambulatory total contact cast is very effective for this. Regardless of the specific treatment method instituted, it is imperative that appropriate and aggressive treatment be undertaken immediately following diagnosis to help prevent progression to a profoundly debilitating, limb-threatening deformity.