Definition

Foot ulcers are open sores on the foot.

A foot ulcer can be a shallow red sore that involves only the surface skin. However, a foot ulcer can also be very deep. A deep ulcer may extend through the full thickness of the skin. It may extend to involve tendons, bones and other structures.

People suffering from diabetes and those with poor circulation are more likely to develop foot ulcers.

They are usually difficult to heal in people with these conditions, and even a small ulcer can become infected if it does not heal quickly.

If an infection occurs in an ulcer and is not treated immediately, it can develop into:

  • An abscess
  • An infection of the skin and underlying fat
  • A bone infection (osteomyelitis)
  • Gangrene

Among people with diabetes, the most severe foot infections that ultimately require some part of the toe, foot or lower leg to be amputated start as a foot ulcer.

Foot ulcers are particularly common in people who have one or more of the following health problems:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Circulatory problems
  • Abnormalities in the bones or muscles of the feet

Other medical conditions that increase the risk of foot ulcers include:

  • Atherosclerosis.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon.This condition causes sudden episodes of decreased blood flow to the fingers and toes.

Symptoms

A foot ulcer looks like a red round wound in the skin. Most foot ulcers are located on the side or bottom of the foot around the ankle, or on the top or tip of a toe. This wound can be surrounded by thickened skin. In very severe ulcers, the wound may be deep enough to affect tendons or bones.

Expected Duration

The period a foot ulcer will last depends on:

  • How deep the ulcer is
  • Whether blood circulation is sufficient to provide oxygen and nutrients
  • Whether the ulcer is protected from friction or pressure
  • Whether the ulcer is infected

In people who have good circulation and good medical care, an ulcer sometimes can heal within only three to six weeks. Deeper ulcers may take 12 – 20 weeks. They sometimes require surgery.

Foot Ulcer Treatment

If you have good circulation, your foot ulcer may be “cleared” with a procedure called curettage – surgical debridement. This consists of trimming away diseased tissue, and removal of any nearby callused skin. Following this, a bandage will be applied.

Your doctor will need to see you frequently to examine and debride the area. A nurse may need to visit you to change the dressing every several days. Care of a foot ulcer can require multiple visits over weeks or months.

The visits will last for as long as it takes for your ulcer to heal completely. To avoid the possibility of infection, antibiotics may be administered.