While it isn’t the most pleasant subject to discuss, ulceration of the feet and legs is a potentially serious health problem everyone needs to be aware of.
We’ve created this guide to foot and leg ulcers in order to answer many common questions about the issue. Read on to find out more about everything from ulcer risk factors to how our skilled London podiatrists can help you to overcome ulcerated skin.
What Are Foot and Leg Ulcers?
Ulcers on the feet and legs are open sores. They’re slow to heal (some persist for several months) and, frustratingly, can come back.
What Do They Look Like?
If you have ulcers, you’ll see damaged, red, swollen, weeping and sunken patches of skin. As Harvard Health Publishing remarks, an ulcer can be likened to a crater.
Ulcers are often surrounded by thick, callused skin.
Why Do Ulcers Develop?
In a nutshell, ulcers develop because broken skin doesn’t always knit back together properly. An ulcer could well point to an underlying health problem that’s hampering your body’s efforts to repair your skin.
What Parts of the Feet and Legs Are Affected?
Ulcers usually appear on the sole, side of the foot and toes, as well as the inner side of the lower leg.
What Are the Symptoms?
If you develop a foot or leg ulcer, there’ll be redness and inflammation around the affected area. You could feel pain, discomfort or a burning sensation.
As ulcers leak fluid and (if infected) pus, you’ll notice a discharge – your socks may get stained. An unpleasant smell associated with infection and the deterioration of skin is another sign.
Why Are Foot and Leg Ulcers Potentially Serious?
Ulcers undermine your skin’s ability to act as a protective barrier, which makes you more vulnerable to harmful bacteria. If an infection takes hold, you could develop abscesses or even gangrene.
Your body may well struggle to heal these gaping lesions – they tend to get progressively worse, especially if infected. An ulcer might start off as a small, superficial sore, affecting just the uppermost layers of skin. But it has the potential to increase in size, fully penetrate the skin and reach further into the body.
People with very deep ulcers sometimes require skin graft surgery or foot/leg amputation.
What Are the Key Risk Factors for Foot and Leg Ulcers?
- Poor circulation – impaired blood flow means your skin is unlikely to receive enough nutrients to be healthy. Its ability to repair itself will be undermined, while the immune system’s cells, which are carried in the blood, will struggle to reach infected areas.
- Nerve damage – if you lose some or all of the feeling in your feet or lower legs and are therefore less aware of pain and pressure, your skin could get damaged without you realising it.
- Diabetes – high blood sugar levels are associated with both of the risk factors mentioned above. According to IndependentNurse, up to 25% of diabetics will develop ulcers at some stage.
- Advanced age – as you get older, your circulation gets weaker. What’s more, elderly people often struggle to reach their feet to examine them.
- Raynaud’s disease – sufferers experience periods of reduced blood flow to the extremities.
- Foot deformities – Charcot foot and other conditions give feet an abnormal shape and therefore create abnormal pressure points, potentially leading to sores and ulceration.
- Tight shoes – if your shoes pinch and rub against your feet, they can easily damage the skin.
- Dry skin – it’s more likely to split and get infected.
How Are Foot and Leg Ulcers Diagnosed and Treated?
If you suspect you have an ulcer, see your podiatrist and GP urgently. The problem can usually be diagnosed during a simple examination.
At our London podiatry clinics, we can also assess the health of the rest of your skin, check for infection, check your circulation and nerve function, and identify foot/leg abnormalities and gait problems. This will help us to determine if an underlying condition has led to ulceration.
Treating an ulcer normally involves cleaning the area, removing unhealthy skin and applying dressings. Antibiotics may be required.
When a foot ulcer is healing, it’s important to wear footwear that fits well and accommodates dressings. We can advise you about footwear, create prescription orthotics designed to ensure sore areas aren’t put under pressure, and support your recovery during follow-up consultations.
What’s more, regular podiatry appointments can help to prevent foot and leg ulcers recurring.
For expert help to tackle foot and leg ulcers, contact Feet By Pody today!