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Foot ulcers can be unpleasant, unsightly, and incredibly painful.
A foot ulcer is an open sore, usually on the sole of your foot. It can be caused by something inside your foot or by an external wound. If you step on something sharp, for instance, the injury could turn into an ulcer if you don't get proper treatment.

Ulcer Care Is Urgent Care

If you ever find yourself developing a foot ulcer, you can’t afford to sit on it and hope it heals. While blisters, heel pain, shin splints, and other common foot injuries can keep you on the couch for longer than you’d like, you can often treat such conditions at home.

Ulcers, on the other hand, can develop into very serious problems if you ignore them. Left untreated, ulcers can:

  • Become abscessed and form a gaping hole in your foot
  • Develop massive pockets of pus
  • Transform into progressive, aggressive cellulitis
  • Infect your bone or bone tissue 

But perhaps the most dangerous potential side-effect of ulcers is gangrene. If an ulcer becomes gangrenous, you’ll see the infected tissue gradually turn darker and eventually die. Advanced cases of gangrene often necessitate amputation. In fact, foot ulcers precede about 80% of all lower-extremity amputations not caused by an accident or acute trauma.

So if you have an ulcer, don’t delay treatment. Even if it seems like something you can manage at home, it could develop into something much worse.

Your Risk for Foot Ulcers

Now that you know how dangerous foot ulcers can be, you’ll naturally wonder whether you’re at risk. Do you have:

  • Diabetes?
  • Foot deformities?
  • Loss of sensation in your feet, or a feeling of numbness?
  • History of ulceration, or even a prior amputation?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you’re at an elevated risk of developing foot ulcers, regardless of whether you’ve already had one.

The Different Kinds of Foot Ulcers

When you, a family member, or a friend gets an ulcer, you’ll first want to consider why. You can think about foot ulcers as generally falling into one of several categories:

  • Diabetic foot ulcers, which may occur if you have diabetes or a diabetes-related complication. Diabetic foot ulcers can show up anywhere, but you’re most likely to find them around your big toes or heels
  • Pressure ulcers can develop for several different reasons, but a likely cause is tight shoes that restrict your circulation. If that’s the case, you’ll probably find sores at the back of your feet, especially around the heel.
  • Arterial ulcers, caused by poor arterial circulation
  • Venous stasis ulcers, if you have a damaged vein or veins

You can see that developing an ulcer isn’t good news. Even if it isn’t big or particularly painful, it can indicate you’re suffering from a more serious condition, like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Of course, ulcers can have other causes, too. You may also develop a foot ulcer if you have:

  • Poor blood circulation in your feet
  • Unlucky genetics
  • An infected or untreated wound
  • Nerve damage

However, diabetes is—far and away—the most common cause of foot ulcers in the United States.

No matter what may have caused it, a foot ulcer should always raise alarm bells. You must keep emergent sores under control before they develop into a problematic ulcer. 

Preventing Foot Ulcers

What To Do At Home to Prevent Foot Ulcers

If you have diabetes or another health complication, checking on the health of your feet should be part of your daily routine. Experts suggest you:

  • Inspect your feet regularly. Simple injuries, like blisters and abrasions, can usually be treated at home. However, if you notice your feet feeling numb or swelling, visit a podiatrist.
  • Think about your footwear. Are your shoes too big or too small? Restrictive footwear can cause a lot more problems than you’d expect for adults and children alike.
  • Create a health plan. If you have diabetes, how do you manage it? If you’re overweight, how are you keeping your body strong? Just like diabetes can be a direct cause of ulceration, obesity can also contribute to the formation of ulcers and other foot-related problems.

Remember: your body works to heal itself, but your lifestyle and routines can help or hinder it. Tobacco abuse, for instance, inhibits blood circulation and thereby inhibits your body’s natural healing process.

What We Do At the Office To Prevent Foot Ulcers

Since 2022 our office has been using the Arche Healthcare System when we conduct a Comprehensive Diabetes Foot Exam with our patients. With highly visual testing our patients are more motivated to follow through on the recommendations listed above. 

How Your Podiatrist Treats Ulcers

If you do develop an ulcer, you should see your podiatrist as soon as possible. Podiatrists have a variety of ways to treat foot ulcers. Most frequently, we:

  • Prescribe antibiotics, if and when they’re needed
  • Dress and wrap the wound, to prevent further infection or growth
  • Treat early and later stage wounds with biologics
  • Work with your schedule and circumstances to develop a holistic healing plan

In some worst-case scenarios, you may need surgery. A podiatrist may cut away dangerously infected tissue or be forced to amputate part of your foot.

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Don’t Wait to Take Action

Podiatrists can not only help you treat an existing ulcer, but they can also help you prevent them from ever occurring. If you think you’re at risk of developing foot ulcers or need immediate attention, contact us right away.

Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.