A podiatrist is a foot doctor who treats the foot, ankle, and parts of the leg. A podiatrist is also known as a chiropodist, podiatric physician, or doctor of podiatric medicine.
Podiatrists treat injuries and foot problems resulting from health issues like diabetes. In addition, some podiatrists treat sports injuries, nerve damage, ulcers, and other conditions.
If the thought “should I become a podiatrist” is on your mind, we have some information that may help. Here’s everything you should know about a career as a podiatrist.
Education and Training
Like other types of doctors and surgeons, a podiatrist must complete a pre-med undergraduate degree. Many podiatrists have an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, or physics.
After graduation, students then begin four years of podiatry training. They receive in-depth training on the legs and feet’ bones, muscles, nerves, and ligaments.
They learn how the legs and feet work together for proper movement and optimal health. In addition, they learn about the various illnesses and injuries that affect the feet and legs.
Education includes how to diagnose and treat conditions of the legs and feet.
Upon graduation, students must complete a 3-year residency in a hospital setting.
Working as a resident allows students to work with other medical professionals. These professionals include doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, medical technicians, and others.
Students must complete a residency and pass all required exams. When a student fulfills all requirements, the American Board of Podiatric Medicine certifies them as a podiatrist.
A pediatric doctor who specializes in foot surgery is a podiatric surgeon. The American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery award this type of certification.
Podiatric surgeons must pass specialized exams. These exams focus on foot health and surgical treatments for various conditions and injuries.
Like other doctors, podiatrists and podiatric surgeons must renew their licenses every few years. In addition, they must stay up to date with current trends in the field and continue their education by attending yearly podiatry seminars.
Foot Conditions Podiatrists Treat
Podiatrists treat a wide range of foot conditions. People experiencing any pain or foot condition can visit a podiatrist for treatment. Some conditions podiatrists treat include:
Hammertoes and Bunions
These are common problems with the bones of the feet. Hammertoes can be painful and occur when the toe doesn’t bend as it should. Bunions occur when the joint of the big toe is enlarged or knocked out of place.
Fractures and Sprains
These are common injuries that affect the foot and ankle. Podiatrists often treat sports-related injuries. They also work with athletes on ways to strengthen the muscles of the legs and feet to prevent these types of injuries.
Diabetes and Foot Problems
Diabetes can damage the nerves in the feet and legs. As a result, people with advanced diabetes are more likely to experience serious foot issues. A podiatrist has the necessary training to care for diabetes-related foot problems.
People visit a podiatrist for nail issues like ingrown toenails or nail fungus. These are common problems podiatrists treat.
People with arthritis often experience pain and swelling of the joints. For example, the foot has 33 joints, so people with arthritis of the feet may experience considerable pain.
Podiatrists treat arthritis issues with physical therapy, medication, or special shoes or inserts. When other treatments aren’t effective, surgery is an option.
Heel pain is a common complaint. This is often a result of heel spurs or a calcium buildup on the bone.
This may be due to poorly fitting shoes, excessive running, or a weight problem. Other causes of foot pain include Achille’s tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.
This condition involves the third and fourth bones of the foot. The condition causes a sensation that feels like there’s something in the shoe. In addition, patients may experience a painful or burning sensation.
This condition is common in runners. Podiatrists may treat Morton’s Neuroma with steroid shots for pain and inflammation.
Foot Problems in Children
Children may experience a variety of foot problems. For example, children whose feet turn inward or outward or who have flat feet may see a podiatrist for treatment. A podiatrist may recommend braces, insoles, physical therapy, or other treatments.
Some children experience growing pains in their legs and feet. They may see a podiatrist to rule out other more serious causes of pain.
Types of Podiatrists
Some podiatrists are generalists and treat a wide variety of foot conditions. Others are more specialized in areas such as wound care or sports medicine. Some other specialties include:
- Pediatric care
- Geriatric Care
- Surgical Care
- Autoimmune or inflammatory conditions
- Circulatory foot conditions
- Neurologic foot conditions
Doctors often refer patients with serious foot issues to a podiatric foot specialist.
Like any doctor, a podiatrist wants to ensure they have the information they need to make the proper diagnosis. This often begins by reviewing the patient’s current symptoms and medical history.
A podiatrist may ask the patient to walk or move their toes or feet in various directions during an examination. The podiatrist will note any signs of swelling or skin discoloration. They may need additional tests for a final diagnosis.
Some other diagnostic tools include:
- Imaging including CT scans, bone scans, MRIs, or x-rays. Imaging can reveal broken bones, structural problems, blocked or narrowed vessels, or other issues.
- Electromyography (EMG) measures how the muscles respond to nerve stimulation. Podiatrists use electrodes or thin needles to detect electrical activity in the muscle tissue.
- Blood tests can detect infection, signs of inflammation, or autoimmune disease.
- Quantitative sensory testing measures how the nerves perceive temperature change and vibration. This test can help in the diagnosis of diabetic neuropathy or other nerve disorders.
A podiatrist orders diagnostic tests and reviews the results. This helps a doctor of podiatry make a definitive diagnosis and recommend treatment or further evaluation.
A podiatrist may work alone or with other healthcare specialists to recommend treatment. Podiatrists offer a variety of treatments which include:
- Setting broken bones
- Prescription medications, including pain relievers, corticosteroids, cortisone injections, antibiotics, and antifungals
- Orthotic devices, including braces and insoles
- Corrective footwear
- Joint aspiration
Surgical procedures may include:
- Treating inflamed ligaments and tendons
- Debridement of infected or dead tissue
- Removing tumors, bunions, or bone spurs
- Correcting structural abnormalities such as hammertoes or flat feet
- Surgical procedures for broken bones
Podiatrists care for, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of foot, ankle, and leg problems. They are highly regarded in the medical community for the valuable work they do for patients with foot problems.
Podiatrist vs. Physician
A podiatrist is a doctor of podiatric medicine. They are not physicians. Although podiatrists are not MDs, they receive extensive training that is similar to medical doctors.
Podiatrists’ training focuses on the disorders of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. This specialized training makes podiatrists experts in diagnosing and treating problems in these areas of the body.
Why People See a Podiatrist
The feet are such an important part of the human body, so proper foot care is essential. By the time the average person is 80 years old, they have walked 110,000 miles on their feet.
Feet are complex structures. Multiple bones, tendons, and ligaments must work in harmony to keep someone moving and pain-free.
People visit a podiatrist when they are having problems with their feet. This is because they know podiatrists are specialists in this area and have advanced training to diagnose and treat foot-related problems.
Walking around in pain is miserable. However, by the time someone visits a podiatrist, they are often desperate for relief. Some common reasons people visit a podiatrist include:
- Persistent foot or ankle pain
- Growths or warts on the foot
- Peeling or scaling skin on the bottom of the foot
- Infections of the foot
- Foot fungus or toenail problems
- Cuts or wounds that will not heal
A podiatrist often deals with patients who haven’t gotten relief from other doctors or treatments. For example, podiatrists help people suffering from a wide variety of foot problems.
This is an important aspect of a podiatrist job description and a valuable contribution to the medical community.
Considering a Career in Podiatry
Podiatrists are skilled specialists who diagnose and treat foot, ankle, and leg problems. Their specialized knowledge equips them to treat people who suffer from foot problems of various causes.
If you’re considering a career in the healthcare industry, podiatry is an excellent field. Providers are in demand, and this trend will continue in the future.