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What Are Ulcers of the Foot?

Sole of foot showing callus, hot spot, and ulcer.

Force or friction against the bottom of your foot causes the skin to thicken, forming a callus. If the skin keeps thickening, the callus presses up into the foot. This kills healthy tissue and causes pain. Unfortunately, you may not notice the pain if you have neuropathy. This is a health problem that limits how much feeling you have in your feet. Diabetes is a common cause of neuropathy. As healthy skin dies, an ulcer forms. Ulcers may progress from hot spots to infected wounds very quickly. If left untreated, the ulcer may cause infection to the rest of your body. However, the ulcers can be prevented and controlled by you and your healthcare provider.

Hot spots

Red “hot” spots on the skin are signs of pressure or friction. They are a warning that you need to take care of your feet. If pressure is not relieved, a hot spot is likely to blister. Left untreated, a blister can turn into an open wound or a corn (thickened skin on top of the foot) or callus. Your healthcare provider may remove a thickened callous. Don’t try to remove them yourself without supervision from your healthcare provider or podiatrist.


If a corn or callus presses into the foot, it destroys inner layers of skin and fat. Cracks and sores may form. These open wounds are ulcers. They provide a way for infection to enter the body. In some cases, dead skin (such as a corn or callus) may cover an open wound, making it harder to see.

If bacteria enter the ulcer, infection sets in. This causes more healthy tissue to die. The infected ulcer may begin to drain. The discharge may be white, yellow, or greenish. Some infected ulcers bleed or have a bad odor. The skin around an infected ulcer may become red or warm. If you think you have an infected ulcer, call your healthcare provider right away.

Preventing ulcers on your feet 

Follow these steps to prevent ulcers from forming:

  • Check your feet daily or ask for help if you can’t check yourself.

  • Wear orthoses (custom-made shoe inserts or temporary casts), if they have been prescribed for you.

  • Take your medicines as directed.

  • Check your shoes for small rocks and sand before putting them on.

  • Wear socks.

  • If you smoke, quitting now can increase blood flow to your feet and can aid healing.

  • Eat right and exercise.

To learn more

For more information, go to the Pressure Ulcer/Injury Resource mobile app.




Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 8/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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