Diabetes and Plastic Surgery | Diabetic Foot | MedStar Health

Specialized care for diabetic foot problems

Doctor examining paitent’s foot

If you have diabetes, taking good care of your feet is critical to staying healthy. Diabetes can cause you to lose sensation in your feet, and you may not realize when you experience a foot injury. Even a minor cut or injury can lead to diabetic foot ulcers and other serious problems. In severe cases, diabetic foot problems can lead to infections and other complications that may require limb-saving surgery.

Charcot foot is a progressive disease where the bones in the foot or ankle joints deteriorate and weaken. Having diabetic neuropathy can put you at risk for Charcot foot because it decreases the sensation in your feet. In severe cases, the foot may take an abnormal shape due to a collapse of the midfoot arch.

Symptoms and treatment

The condition usually begins with inflammation and eventually, the shape of the foot may become fractured and deformed. It can cause pain, difficulty wearing shoes, skin breakdown, non-healing ulcers, and infections. If you experience the following symptoms, make an appointment with a podiatric surgeon to have your feet examined:

  • Loss of sensation in the foot or ankle

  • Swelling of the foot or ankle

  • Loss of sensation to heat or cold

  • Affected area is warm to the touch

  • Redness of the foot or ankle

  • Visible deformities of the foot or ankle

Non-surgical treatment of Charcot foot may involve wearing a special boot, custom shoes, or bracing to immobilize and protect the foot. In some cases, the deformity is severe enough to warrant surgical correction. A single procedure may be all that is needed to alleviate pressure points. For the most complex cases, reconstructive foot and ankle surgery may be required to realign and fuse the bones in the proper position.

Our approach to care

At MedStar Health, our diabetic limb specialists offer the most advanced treatment options for people who suffer from Charcot foot and other diabetes-related foot problems. We offer an array of comprehensive services including:

  • Foot and ankle reconstructive surgery, which corrects the structures of the foot to restore function

  • Gait evaluation, which analyzes how you stand or walk to detect areas of pressure and potential ulceration

  • Prosthetic devices, which improve mobility with an artificial limb in cases when an arm or other extremity is amputated or lost

  • Total contact casting, which involves fitting a non-removable cast to protect the affected limb

  • Wound care services, which include the medical removal of damaged or infected tissue, if needed, as well as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and other techniques to promote healing

  • Diabetic orthotics, which evaluate you for specialized, prescription footwear designed to reduce the risk of wounds or injuries as a result of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)


Learn more about how to prevent diabetic foot problems with these easy-care practices from our very own podiatric surgeon, Dr. John Steinberg. Click here!

Frequently asked questions

  • What foot problems can be caused by diabetes?

    Diabetic neuropathy (loss of normal nerve sensation) and peripheral vascular disease (poor circulation) can cause serious problems, including:

    • Diabetic foot ulcers (wounds that do not heal)

    • Infections of the skin or bone

    • Gangrene (dead tissue caused by loss of circulation)

    • Charcot foot (fractures and severe deformities)

  • What can I do to help the healing process?

    Getting medical treatment for your wound is key to recovery, as well as treating any underlying health issues affecting the healing process. If you have diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood sugar under control. You should also follow a healthy diet to ensure your body is getting the nutrition it needs to promote wound healing. Ask your doctor about starting a diabetes education program.

Our locations

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MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

3800 Reservoir Rd. NW
Washington, DC, 20007

MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Washington, DC 20010

MedStar Health: Medical Center at Mitchellville

12158 Central Ave.
Mitchellville, MD 20721

Additional information

How Can Diabetes Patients Avoid Amputation? 

Diabetes causes problems with sensation in the feet, which leaves patients susceptible to foot injuries that can go undetected long enough to become severely infected.