What is a foot doctor?
A foot doctor, also called a podiatrist, is a medical specialist who helps treat people with foot and ankle disorders. Podiatrists treat patients of all ages and people with other chronic medical conditions like diabetes.
Podiatrists go to a podiatric medical school and complete a four-year curriculum followed by at least two years of residency training, which provides an interdisciplinary experience along with rotations in the areas of internal medicine, pediatrics, anesthesiology, surgery, and ER.
Podiatrists can prescribe medications, order laboratory tests and X-rays, reset broken bones, and perform surgery. They usually work with other specialists in managing problems that affect the lower legs and feet. They are also regulated and licensed by state governments in the United States.
Where do podiatrists work?
A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) practices in different settings and are licensed in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. They usually work in the following settings:
- Private practice
- Group medical practice
- Long-term care facilities (skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities)
- U.S. Public Health Service
- Municipal health departments
- Health professions schools
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Armed Forces
- Preferred provider organizations (PPOs)
- Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
What does a foot doctor do?
Podiatrists treat a number of conditions and provide techniques that can help improve their patient's overall well-being. They can also initially detect symptoms of cardiovascular disease or diabetes by examing the human foot.
An average day of a podiatrist may include any of the following:
- Patient consultations regarding preventive foot care and ongoing treatment of foot and lower leg problems.
- Orders patient referrals to other specialists, especially when a patient's symptoms are associated with other health conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, or arthritis.
- Diagnose a variety of foot problems, such as ulcers, tumors, fractures, nail and skin diseases, including congenital foot deformities.
- Correct balance and walking patterns of patients.
- Promote a more comfortable and efficient overall mobility.
- Treat conditions such as bunions, ingrown toenails, corns, calluses, bone disorders, arch problems, cysts, and abscesses using innovative techniques.
- Correct deformities using plaster casts, corrective orthotics, and strappings.
- Design flexible casting for injuries such as sprains and foot and ankle fractures.
Podiatrists also diagnose and treat different foot-related issues, which include:
- Heel pain (plantar fasciitis)
- Heel spur
- Ankle or arch pain
- Painful toenails
- Ingrown toenails
- Painful feet and legs
- Cracked heels
- Claw toes
- Athlete's foot
- Fungal nails
- Diabetic foot
- Medical conditions that affect the circulatory system and nerves
- Sports-related injuries
- Pediatric foot problems
- Foot deformities
- Abnormal gait
- Hip pain
- Lower back pain
- Running-related injuries
- Shin splints
- Shin pain
- Postural instability
- Calcaneal apophysitis (Sever's disease)
Podiatric Specialty Areas
- Podiatric Primary Care: DPMs in this specialty area helps prevent, diagnose, and treat a variety of podiatric conditions in people of all ages.
- Podiatric Sports Medicine: Involves the understanding, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of foot and leg injuries in athletes.
- Podiatric Orthopedics: Involves the treatment of imperfect leg and foot function and structure using physical therapy, prosthetic devices, special footwear, and orthotics or devices that help provide proper foot support by distributing body weight and realigning the foot. This specialty area involves non-surgical and conservative treatment of foot problems.
- Podopediatrics: This specialty area involves the prevention, identification, diagnosis, treatment, and effective care of foot and leg problems in children.
- Podogeriatrics: Involves the treatment of lower extremity problems in the elderly.
- Podiatric Surgery: This specialty area involves surgical procedures for the management and treatment of foot and ankle disorders. Podiatric surgery also involves the use of both general and local anesthetics.
- Wound Care and Management: This area of podiatry involves the prevention, management, and care of lower extremity injuries, such as ulcers and wounds, particularly those that are related to chronic systemic diseases and diabetes.
How to Find a Podiatrist
The following sources can help you find and gather names of podiatrists:
- Your primary care doctor: You can ask for a referral from your primary care doctor or other doctors whom you know and regularly see.
- Family, relatives, friends, or colleagues: You can also ask for referrals from people whom you trust. However, it is important to note that their choices are often based on how well they connect with their doctor's style and personality. Although their doctor's qualities are suitable for them, it may be far from your personal preferences. For this reason, only see a doctor if the qualities mentioned by people you know also suit your preferences.
- Hospitals: A referral service is also offered by reputable hospitals, which can provide the names of doctors who meet your preferences, such as location, gender, and specialty. However, the quality of care that suits your preference cannot be guaranteed by this type of referral service.
Consulting a Podiatrist
If it is your first time seeing a podiatrist, be prepared by bringing medical records that are related to the following:
- Personal medical history
- Family medical history
- Childhood diseases
- Chronic diseases
- Medications, vitamins, and supplements taken
- Laboratory test results (blood tests and X-rays)
If you have arthritis or diabetes, inform your podiatrist right away. It is recommended to let the doctor know about your health status because withholding important medical information may result in a misdiagnosis and/or wrong treatment.
You can also ask specific questions and take note of your doctor's answers to avoid forgetting information or important recommendations that could help in your recovery and treatment course. Follow your doctor's instructions for a faster recovery.
According to studies, approximately 75 percent of Americans encounter foot problems at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, there are many people who do not seek prompt medical care and attention when they experience aching feet. Remember that any pain felt in your feet is never normal, which is why such symptom should not be ignored. Most foot problems are caused by improper foot care, which includes wearing ill-fitting shoes.
Podiatrists can help whatever the cause of your aching feet. They are specially trained when it comes to everything about foot function and problems of the foot and ankle, including muscles and tendons.