Charcot Arthropathy Clinical Presentation

Updated: May 27, 2022
  • Author: Mrugeshkumar Shah, MD, MPH, MS; Chief Editor: Vinod K Panchbhavi, MD, FACS, FAOA, FABOS, FAAOS  more...
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History and Physical Examination

The clinical presentation of Charcot arthropathy can vary widely depending on the stage of the disease. Thus, symptoms can range from mild swelling and no deformity to moderate deformity with significant swelling.

Acute Charcot arthropathy almost always presents with signs of inflammation. Profound unilateral swelling, an increase in local skin temperature (generally, an increase of 3-7º above the unaffected foot's skin temperature), erythema, joint effusion, and bone resorption in an insensate foot are present. These characteristics, in the presence of intact skin and a loss of protective sensation, are often pathognomonic of acute Charcot arthropathy.

It is important to distinguish Charcot arthropathy from infection. Failure to do so can lead to complications from inappropriate treatment (eg, unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions), delay the initiation of more appropriate therapy, and possibly accelerate antibiotic resistance. [11]

Pain can occur in more than 75% of patients; however, the pain's severity is significantly less than would be expected from the severity of the clinical or radiographic findings. Instability and loss of joint function also may be present. Passive movement of the joint may reveal a "loose bag of bones." Approximately 40% of patients with acute Charcot arthropathy have concomitant ulceration, which complicates the diagnosis and raises concerns that osteomyelitis may be present.



Charcot fractures that are not identified and treated properly may progress to marked joint deformity and to skin ulceration over a bony prominence. The ulceration can result in a severe infection, which may lead to amputation of the extremity.

An additional complication of Charcot arthropathy is foot collapse leading to the formation of a clubfoot. Another commonly seen deformity is the rocker-bottom foot, in which collapse and inversion of the plantar arch occurs. Acute fracture and dislocation at the Lisfranc joint complex may follow insignificant or unrecognized trauma in patients with Charcot neuroarthropathy. [12]

Further complications include the ossification of ligamentous structures, the formation of intra-articular and extra-articular exostoses, the collapse of the plantar arch, and the development of osteomyelitis.