Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was the first to describe the disintegration of ligaments and joint surfaces (Charcot disease, or Charcot joint) caused by disease or injury. Charcot foot is the term given to neurogenic arthropathy that affects the joints in the foot. Neurogenic arthropathy is a rapidly progressive degenerative arthritis that results from damaged nerves (neuropathy).
In Charcot foot, pain perception and the ability to sense the position of the joints in the foot are severely impaired or lost, and muscles lose their ability to support the joint(s) properly. Loss of these motor and sensory nerve functions allow minor traumas such as sprains and stress fractures to go undetected and untreated, leading to ligament laxity (slackness), joint dislocation, bone erosion, cartilage damage, and deformity of the foot. The bones most often affected are the metatarsals and the tarsals, located in the forefoot and mid foot.
Motor nerves carry signals from the brain to the muscles to allow gross and fine movements, such as walking and holding a pen. Sensory nerves carry information about shape, movement, temperature, texture, and pain to the brain. Loss of motor nerve fibers can cause muscular weakness. Loss of sensory nerve fibers can cause loss of feeling.
Autonomic nerves control unconscious functions such as heart rate, digestion, breathing, and so on. Loss of autonomic nerve fibers may cause increased blood flow to joints, which increases bone resorption (link to osteoporosis), or loss of bone, and the risk for fractures.
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