Foot ulcers are sores or breaks in the skin that typically occur on the ball of the foot. They are most common in people with poorly managed diabetes, but they may affect anyone of any age and health status. With treatment, most foot ulcers will heal completely. Untreated foot ulcers may become infected or lead to extensive tissue damage. According to the American Diabetes Association, severe cases may require amputation.
How to Heal Foot Ulcers
Apply topical antibiotic ointment to the foot ulcer to prevent infection and speed healing. Schedule an urgent appointment with your doctor, especially if you are diabetic. Even small foot ulcers can quickly become infected or lead to other complications.
Get an x-ray or MRI scan of your foot to make certain the bone is not involved. The type and extent of treatment depends on how much tissue is involved. If damage is severe, or if infection is present in the bones, hospitalization or amputation may be required.
Take oral antibiotics if your foot ulcer does not respond to topical antibiotics, or if your doctor believes the ulcer is becoming worse, or there is indication that an infection has spread into surrounding tissue. Systemic antibiotics can significantly reduce the risk of sepsis, cellulitis, and amputation, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center.
Flush the ulcer with a saline solution to keep it clean. Avoid hydrogen peroxide or antiseptic rinses on your foot ulcer unless you doctor specifically prescribes it. Using these products to clean your wound may delay healing and dry out the tissue. Foot ulcers heal more quickly when they are kept moist.
Stay off your foot as much as possible until the foot ulcer is completely healed. When no infection is present, your doctor may cast the foot temporarily to prevent you from putting pressure on the wounded area. According to Columbia University Medical Center, special shoes may also be prescribed to use both during recovery and in the future to prevent a recurrence of the ulcer.
Try treating your foot ulcer with bioengineered skin patches or recombinant growth factor if other treatment methods have failed. These options improve recovery time and help prevent infection. Dermagraft, one of three FDA approved therapies, is a dissolvable material that contains connective tissue cells. The mesh material is placed directly on the foot ulcer, where it is absorbed by the body. The patch replaces damaged areas of skin and encourages the growth of new skin.
Speak with your doctor about surgical removal of damaged or dead tissue in the area of your foot ulcer. This procedure, called debridement, reduces the chance of infection, speeds healing, and lessens the likelihood of amputation. Debridement is typically the most effective way to treat foot ulcers, especially those caused or complicated by diabetes.