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Open Access Research article

The natural history of pedal puncture wounds in diabetics: a cross-sectional survey

Jeffrey M East12*, Curtis B Yeates34 and Hector P Robinson5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), Montego Bay, Jamaica

2 Department of Surgery, Radiology, Anesthesia and Intensive Care, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 6, Jamaica

3 Department of Medicine, CRH, Montego Bay, Jamaica

4 Department of Medicine, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 6, Jamaica

5 41 Church Street, Montego Bay, Jamaica

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BMC Surgery 2011, 11:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2482-11-27

Published: 17 October 2011



Surgeons usually witness only the limb-threatening stages of infected, closed pedal puncture wounds in diabetics. Given that this catastrophic outcome often represents failure of conservative management of pre-infected wounds, some suggest consideration of invasive intervention (coring or laying-open) for pre-infected wounds in hope of preventing contamination from evolving into infection, there being no evidence based guidelines. However, an invasive pre-emptive approach is only justifiable if the probability of progression to catastrophic infection is very high. Literature search revealed no prior studies on the natural history of closed pedal puncture wounds in diabetics.


A survey was conducted via an interviewer-administered questionnaire on 198 adult diabetics resident in the parish of St. James, Jamaica. The sample was selected using a purposive technique designed to mirror the social gradient and residential distribution of the target population and is twice the number needed to detect a prevalence of puncture wounds of 14% with a range of 7-21% in a random sample of the estimated adult diabetic population.


The prevalence of a history of at least one closed pedal puncture wound since diagnosis of diabetes was 25.8% (CI; 19.6-31.9%). The only modifiable variable associated at the 5% level of significance with risk of pedal puncture wound, after adjustment by multivariable logistic regression, was site of interview/paying status, a variable substantially reflective of income more so than quality-of-care.

Of 77 reported episodes of closed pedal puncture wound among 51 participants, 45.4% healed without medical intervention, 27.3% healed after non-surgical treatment by a doctor and 27.3% required surgical intervention ranging from debridement to below-knee amputation. Anesthetic foot (failure to feel the puncture) and sole of the forefoot as site of puncture were the variables significantly associated with risk of requiring surgical intervention.


That 72.7% of wounds healed either spontaneously or after non-surgical treatment means that routine, non-selective surgical intervention for pre-infected closed pedal puncture wounds in diabetics is not justifiable. However the subset of patients with an anesthetic foot and a wound on the sole of the forefoot should be marked for intensive surveillance and early surgical intervention if infection occurs.

Trial Registration NCT01151891