A foot ulcer is an open sore on the foot. It is sometimes be a shallow red crater on skin surface, or it can be very deep. A deep foot ulcer can go through the skin, affecting tendons and bones.

People with diabetes and/or poor circulation are more prone to foot ulcers. These can easily become infected if not given prompt and proper attention. An infected ulcer can develop into a number of serious conditions, including:

  • An abscess (a pocket of pus).
  • Osteomyelitis (a bone infection).
  • Gangrene – an mass of dead tissue caused by poor blood flow.

There are four major causes of foot ulcers:

  • Neuropathic— related to the nerves. There is usually a loss of feeling in these cases.
  • Arterial—poor blood circulation.
  • Venous—a result of poorly functioning veins.  
  • Decubitus—  high and prolonged pressure on one area of the foot.  

Most foot ulcers are located on the side or bottom of the foot, or on the top of a toe. They are often surrounded by thickened, callused skin. In very severe ulcers, tendons or bones may be exposed. Usually (if the nerves in the foot are functioning normally), the ulcer will be painful. If it isn’t painful, the person may not know it is there - particularly if the ulcer is on a less obvious part of the foot.

Many ulcers can be treated with a procedure called debridement (trimming away diseased tissue), followed by a period of wearing wear a shoe/ sandal over a bandage (or perhaps a cast). If there is the possibility of infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Some foot ulcers may require surgery.  

People who are at risk of foot ulcers, such as those with diabetes, can take steps to help prevent foot ulcers by examining their feet routinely and following good foot-hygiene practices. The following may help prevent foot ulcers:

  • Regularly examine the feet for rubbed areas, cracks or calluses.
  • Wash your feet every day and dry thoroughly, especially between the toes.  
  • Wear shoes that fit well, with soft, absorbent socks. Change them immediately if they become wet or sweaty.
  • Trim toenails straight across.
  • If you have corns or calluses, consult a foot specialist or GP about how to care for them.