Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Meetings of diabetologists justifiably occupy much time debating the management of ulcers of the feet, since a significant percentage of diabetics develop intractable ulcers leading to amputations.

These medical meetings correctly emphasise the importance of sensation loss and insufficiency of blood perfusion. However there is another necessary factor in the cause of foot ulcers, which is seldom discussed in these meetings, the abnormalities of alignment of the skeletal structures of the foot.  Examples are clawing, veering and rotation of the toes and dislocations of the toe joints. These cause dangerous high foot-pressure areas which are a necessary prerequisite for foot ulcers.

Such deformities worsen progressively[i], and once deformation has started ulceration in the insensate foot becomes inevitable with time. Therefore these abnormalities require correction immediately they appear, immediately the toes begin to claw, immediately the calluses show on the soles, and immediately any abrasions or corns appear on their feet.

Most non-diabetics with these foot deformities readily seek treatment because they are prompted by pain.

However, those who cannot feel do not complain, and so often progress to ulcers, with eventual loss of the foot by amputation

Naturally vascular supply surgery might also be necessary but, once the ulcers have appeared, other treatments like full contact casts, debridement of ulcers and bone, and various forms of direct application are all too little, too late, and often fail.

This is a tragedy because correction of the anatomical alignment of the forefoot (claw toes, hammer toes, “bunions”, corns calluses, metatarsal high pressure, and similar) can usually be easily, safely and permanently corrected by soft tissue releases. This reduces the incidence of ulceration dramatically and lessens the amputation rate.

Soft tissue realignment procedures are performed regularly on non-diabetics. Why then are they not performed in the far more urgent circumstances of diabetic sensation loss?

One reason is that podiatric and orthopaedic management commonly involves dividing and realigning perfectly normal bones, and often destroying perfectly normal joints. These procedures are dangerous (particularly in diabetics) because divided bones might not unite. Bones infected subsequent to surgical damage are exceedingly difficult to treat. Plates, screws, pins, spacers and Silastic hinges implanted in “conventional” surgery all increase the risks of infection. Further, bone surgery necessitates long periods of immobilisation which is detrimental to the physiology of the lower limb, producing yet another set of dangerous complications[ii]: Those without feeling run a high risk of abrasion by casts or other “immobilising” devices.

Clearly “conventional” surgery to bone is precluded in those without sensation or with complicated diabetes.

The belief that it is necessary to operate on bone has come about, and become entrenched dogma, because of irrationality. Bones cannot produce deformities and it is irrational to assault them. Deformities can only be caused by soft tissues pulling the bones into misalignment. The target for correction should therefore be the deforming soft tissues.

Because diabetologists have also been lead into this misapprehension they shy away from referring their patients for appropriate surgery, to the detriment of those who rely on their advice.

Soft tissue surgery is often performed successfully and safely on diabetics and those with sensory loss.

Leaving foot skeletal abnormalities in diabetics and sensory loss feet in the hope that complications will not occur is a misguided invitation to catastrophe.

[i] For various reasons the skeletal deformities of the foot are far more common in diabetics and those with vascular and neurological disease.

[ii] These include oedema, deep vein thrombosis, fungal dermatitis and sensitivities to the contact material.

A wretched back

These letters exemplify many that I have received, and duplicate the complaints of many of my patients over the years.

Professor Driver Jowitt, I have found your info by accident and what I have read has confirmed some suspicions I have had about my own care for some time.

About 30 years ago I had a Takata type disc extrusion which led to laminectomy discectomy including a dural tear and weeks on my back in hospital. It was not enjoyable.

I have just had a fusion to help with awful foot and leg pain due to instability and bilateral foraminal stenosis.

I still have pain in both legs and feet and my low back feels no more stable than before. I have suspected for a long time that I have not been fully informed on my true condition-based simply on how bad I often feel- and I know that my GP is taking his lead from the latest ‘expert’ and my outpourings are largely dismissed.

After all I have been ‘fixed’ now… so what is the problem???

My insurer is taking an increasingly hard line lately on folks like me. I am about to be sent for assessment by an independent contractor to determine if I can return to my trade as a carpenter. I fully expect this to be found to be true and my exit (from benefits) put into motion. I have not worked full time since 2002 – in great pain and discomfort – and lost my latest (light)job when I agreed to the fusion. I feel let down by my health services.

Dear Patient, I have the greatest sympathy for you. Medical investigatory techniques (including the most recently developed “scans”) are relatively crude. Therefore a meticulously accurate diagnosis is often lacking. At times the view is taken that “nothing shows, therefore nothing is wrong”. This is an inferior conclusion, which I often have to counter in Court. My argument is that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

By the same token, such an absence of an anatomical diagnosis defeats accurate treatment design.

However empirically and over a lifetime of involvement in vertebral management [both surgical and (mostly) non-surgical] the least dangerous and most effective form of management is in water, as described in my website.

I imagine you are seeking responses to those who might deem you “fit to work” and so cut your grants. If I can help further, please let me know.

Dear Doctor Driver-Jowitt, I have read some of your articles on spine surgery and tried, elsewhere, to contact you.

I am doing some research on my own situation post discectomy/laminectomy for Takata type extrusion (20mm) in 1989 and L5/S1 fusion recently. I have significant ongoing issues. I am a 52 year old ex tradesman.

Can you tell me how I can establish the current status of my ligamentum flavum? After reading what you have written I think I may have instability and weakness due to its removal in 1989. But how on earth would I know??

Dear Patient, As a beginning, it is not likely to be productive to return to the past in terms of unpicking previous events. What counts is to get going on a process of improving what you have at present.

However, having said that, it might also be important to provide your source of social benefits with some reasons why you may never have been truly “cured” following the original disc prolapse.

At the date of your original surgery it was widespread practice to excise the ligamentum flavum, and to strip away the inter-spinous/supra-spinous ligaments, as well as to elevate (and so inadvertently de-nervate) the mutifidus muscles. The last mentioned is an often unrecognised cause of “instability” as well as “transfer pathology” to segments above and below the segment of primary pathology.

Therefore those who might take the stance “you have been correctly treated, nothing can be found by experts now, and therefore you are fit to work as a carpenter” might well be wrong. Add the impairments at the disc level to other (unrelated and often subliminal) changes of age, and you could well have good reasons not to be able to return to work as a carpenter. Indeed if you are expected to build and mount trusses, or work on scaffolds and ladders, you should be prevented from those activities.

Have your hips been checked? An arthritis, at times not appreciated, can often exacerbate vertebral problems.