Not many are aware that nearly 20-25 percent of all the bones present in the human body is basically located in the feet. It has also been reported that every individual at some point in their lifetime would have experienced a serious injury involving their feet. This is the reason why there is a need for a podiatrist. The number of highly qualified podiatrists has also grown through the years.
What is a podiatrist?
Podiatrists are medical professionals who deal with problems involving the feet and lower legs. They also treat other health conditions, such as diabetes, aside from foot and ankle injuries. Although podiatrists are doctors, they do not attend medical school. Instead, they go to professional associations or their own schools. After the completion of their training and certifications, they are referred as Doctor of Podiatric Medicine or DPM instead of being called a medical doctor or MD.
They can also prescribe medications, order laboratory tests and certain imaging tests, reset broken bones, and perform surgery. Podiatrists also work with other specialists who deal with problems in the lower extremities and feet. They are also regulated and licensed by state governments in the United States.
Apart from certified specialties, a podiatrist can also practice other subspecialties, which would include pediatrics, radiology, diabetic foot care, sports medicine, geriatrics, and dermatology. Podiatric doctors are the only physicians to receive specialized training in medicine and surgery, including a board certification in lower extremity care.
Visiting a Podiatrist
The human foot is a set of complex anatomical structures, which also function as shock absorbers or all-in-one stabilizers. They are also instrumental to the overall health and well-being of the human body. For this reason, they also need specialized care. If you have medical issues concerning your foot and any of its structures, it would be better to seek professional medical help from a certified podiatrist. To identify the correct doctor, you would need to look out for the letters "DPM" (doctor of podiatric medicine) indicated after the doctor's name.
Podiatrists also work with primary care physicians, especially when dealing with patients who have other chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. They can also conduct research programs, teach any educational courses, or write journal articles for various magazines or newspapers.
Podiatrists treat individuals from different age groups for various reasons. Some of the conditions they treat include:
- Sprains and Fractures: A podiatrist commonly treats foot and ankle injuries. They can also work in sports medicine to regularly treat common foot problems of athletes.
- Heel Spurs or Bunions: These are problems that occur in the bones of the feet. A bunion tends to develop when the joint present at the base of the big toe becomes bigger for some reason or gets knocked out of place, which would make the big toe bend toward the other toes. A heel spur develops when there is a buildup of calcium at the bottom part of the heel bone.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic condition that can damage the nerves present in the legs and feet, leading to blood circulation problems in the feet. This condition also causes other serious complications, which would require amputation of the affected leg. Leg amputation can be prevented by people with diabetes through the help of a podiatrist.
- Arthritis: This condition causes swelling, inflammation, and wear and tear of the joints. A podiatrist may recommend physical therapy, medications, or the use of special shoes or inserts that would help heal the condition. If other treatments do not work, then surgery can also be advised.
- Growing Pains: When a child’s feet are pointing inwards, look flat, or when the toes do not line up right, then a podiatrist may help. Podiatrists may also recommend certain exercises, insoles, or braces.
Duties of Podiatrists
A podiatrist typically does the following:
- Assessing problems of the feet, ankles, and lower legs
- Reviewing a patient's medical history
- Performing physical examinations
- Diagnosing and treating problems of the foot, ankle, and lower legs
- Prescribing orthotics or special shoe inserts to help improve the mobility of patients
- Performing foot and ankle surgeries (removal of bone spurs, repair fractures, correct ankle and foot deformities)
- Providing instructions or advice regarding foot and ankle care, including techniques for overall wellness
- Prescribing medications
- Coordinating with other healthcare providers regarding patient care
- Referring patients to other healthcare experts or specialists when it comes to serious and chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and vascular disease
- Conducting research and attending conferences for updates in podiatric medicine
Podiatrists also treat the following foot and ankle issues:
- Ingrown toenails
- Heel spurs
- Arch problems
- Congenital foot and ankle deformities
- Leg and foot problems that are related to diabetes and other illnesses
There are also podiatrists who specialize in performing foot and ankle reconstruction. Others specialize in diabetic foot care, pediatrics, and sports medicine.
Education, Path, and Training Needed
Students who want to become podiatrists take science classes, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, including other sciences before studying in podiatry schools. Most individuals graduate with a bachelor's degree in biology or other related science degrees. It takes four years to complete podiatry school.
Future podiatrists study how the muscles, bones, and nerves work together to help the body move. They also study different injuries and illnesses that can affect the feet, including the diagnosis and treatment of different issues related to the feet and lower legs.
Similar to medical school, students who want to build their career in podiatry should complete their first two years primarily in the classroom, wherein they study courses related to pathology, anatomy, and pharmacology. The third and fourth years are said to focus on specific clinical rotations to provide exposure to students, especially in podiatry practices and specialties. The students are also trained in caring for wounds, biomechanics, surgery, or orthopedics. A podiatrist would also need to have a professional license to be able to practice.
Licensing requirements would differ from one state to another, but most states are said to grant reciprocity to individuals. The applicants, however, have to pass both the written and oral examinations. There would also be a renewal of license and continuing professional development to ensure effective and safe podiatry services.
Few of the other crucial qualities a future podiatrist should have include empathy, community service involvement, and leadership. Building these essential skills and background also becomes a core part of their educational study during college days.
The American Podiatric Medical Association has accredited nine podiatry schools in the US. Once students finish podiatry school, they apply their learning through a three-year residency at hospitals. They also work alongside with other physicians who specialize in other fields, surgeons, pediatricians, anesthesiologists, or infectious disease specialists. After completing their residency training, they can also get advanced certifications in foot and ankle surgery.
A Career in Podiatry
Most podiatrists work either in private or group practice. Some of them would prefer working in a hospital or outpatient care facilities. With the population more on the aging side, there has been a growing need for podiatrists. For this reason, podiatrists are also seen in nursing homes or extended care facilities.
Most of the time, podiatrists generally practice and specialize in pediatrics, radiology, surgery, diabetic foot care, sports-related medicine, and dermatology.