What is a Podiatrist?

X Ray of a Human Foot

Podiatric Medicine: Specialized Care for Your Feet and Ankles

YOUR PODIATRIST – The Foot and Ankle Specialist

Podiatrists are medical professionals trained to keep feet healthy and working well. Your podiatrist uses a wide range of therapies and surgery to treat conditions related to foot structure and function. He or she can also teach you how to avoid foot problems in the future.

Your podiatrist consults with the other members of your health care team, such as your primary care physician. Together, they work to provide you with the best possible overall medical care.

FOOTNOTES: Believe it or not, you’ll walk about 115,000 miles in your lifetime – equal to more than four times around the earth. It’s no wonder, then, that most people develop foot problems at some point in their lives.

A DOCTOR OF PODIATRIC MEDICINE

A podiatrist is a highly trained Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM). Achieving this title takes years of study and clinical practice. After completing a four-year bachelor’s degree program, a student goes on to a four-year podiatric medical school. He or she is then required to complete a minimum of 3 years of residency training and may go on to complete a  fellowship afterwards.

Podiatric medical school is a four-year program. During the first two years, students study basic sciences. The third and fourth years, students focus on learning medical and surgical specialties as well as on gaining clinical experience in foot and ankle problems.

Residency programs are presently 3 years after completing Podiatric Medical School, the majority are based out of teaching hospitals or medical centers.

Continuing eduction is part of the podiatrist’s routine, even after formal training has been completed. By attending courses and seminars, podiatrists prepare for state and national certifying boards and stay informed about the most recent advances in podiatric care.

PROVIDING PROFESSIONAL FOOT CARE

No matter what your age or foot problem, your podiatrist is the professional to turn to for prompt, effective care. Your feet are the bottom line for your health and well-being. So, see your podiatrist for symptoms relief or corrective treatment at the first sign of foot trouble.

YOUR FIRST VISIT – Podiatric Evaluation and Treatment

When you first visit your podiatrist, you may be given a thorough medical evaluation to diagnose your foot problem. The podiatrist takes your medical history, conducts a physical exam, and performs tests as needed.

Once a diagnosis is made, your podiatrist develops a treatment plan designed to relieve your discomfort or correct the foot problem. Your treatment may include a variety of nonsurgical and surgical techniques. Your podiatrist can also give you helpful tips for avoiding foot problems in the future.

FOOTNOTES: Foot problems tend to grow worse over the years because of wear and tear. And feet are one of the most frequently injured parts of the body because we use them constantly.

MEDICAL HISTORY

Feet are a measure of your overall health. For example, conditions such as diabetes, poor circulation, arthritis, kidney disorders, and anemia often affect feet first. To help diagnose your condition, your podiatrist may ask you questions about your medical history and any symptoms you may have.

PHYSICAL EXAMINATION

Your podiatrist may take your blood pressure and check your temperature and breathing. He or she may also check your gait (the way you walk) and examine and move your feet. To evaluation circulation (blood flow) in your feet, your podiatrist may check their pulse, skin color, and temperature. Your ankles, knees, and hips may be examined to see if they are contributing to your foot problems.

DIAGNOSTIC TESTS

Your podiatrist often requests X-rays (pictures of bones). These may be taken right in the office. Other imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect damage to soft tissue. Urine, blood, and vascular (blood flow) tests can also help diagnose a foot condition or health problem.

YOUR TREATMENT PLAN

After making a diagnosis, your podiatrist plans your treatment to give relief and help correct the problem. Your plan may include nonsurgical or surgical treatments.

Nonsurgical Treatment

General care such as trimming nails and corns and padding your feet can help keep your feet healthy and relieve discomfort.

Medications, applied to the skin, taken orally, or injected, can be effective in treating a variety of foot problems.

Physical therapy, including ultrasound (sound wave therapy), whirlpool therapy, exercise, casts, splints, and taping, can aid healing and relieve pain and swelling.

Orthotics, also known as orthoses or inlays, are devices custom fit to your feet and put into shoes. They help you stand, walk, or run more comfortably.

Surgical Treatment:

Your podiatrist is trained to perform any kind of surgery on your feet. You may have surgery in your podiatrist’s office, in a same-day facility, or in a hospital.

Preventing Future Problems:

Your podiatrist can give you tips to follow at home to help keep your feet fit and healthy through the years.

FOOT CHECK – Do You Need Podiatric Care?

Most people suffer from some kind of foot disorder – from athlete’s foot or ingrown nails to bunions, hammertoes or corns. Tight-fitting or high-heeled shoes are often the culprit, but heredity, poor foot care, injuries, or medical conditions can also cause problems. Whatever the state of your feet, your podiatrist can treat your problem to restore your comfort and ease of movement.

FOOTNOTES: Problems in your feet can lead to pain in your hips, knees and lower back.

Take a moment to read this list and check off any conditions or problems you think you might have. If you check any of these boxes, a visit to your podiatrist may be just the help your feet need.

Medical Conditions

  • High blood sugar (diabetes)
  • Cold or hot feet (circulatory problems)
  • Joint pain and swelling (arthritis or gout)

Nail Problems

  • Painful ingrown nails
  • Thickened nails that are difficult to trim
  • A black-and-blue nail from an injury

Bone Problems

  • An unsightly bump (bunion) on the side of your foot by your big toe
  • Uncomfortably bent toes (hammertoes) that may rub on the tops of your shoes
  • A stiff joint in a toe
  • Pain in the bottom or back of your heel (possibly a heel spur)
  • A broken (fractured) bone in your foot

Skin Problems

  • A wart on your foot
  • Thickened skin (callus or corn) between your toes or where your foot repeatedly rubs against your shoe
  • Discolored patches (fungal infection) on your foot or nail
  • Cracks, sores or ulcers on your foot

Soft Tissue Problems

  • Muscle pain or tendinitis
  • Pain on the bottom of your feet (plantar fasciitis)
  • A twisted or sprained ankle

Arch Problems

  • Painful, tired flatfeet
  • Painful high arches

Nerve Conditions

  • Sharp pain in your toes (neuroma)
  • Sharp pain, numbness, or burning sensation in your toes when you’re at rest (neuropathy)

MEDICAL CONDITIONS

You may not realize it, but your overall health affects your foot health – a lot. Many medical conditions that affect circulation (blood flow), nerves (feeling), or joints may cause damage to your feet first.

That’s why you should see your podiatrist regularly, especially if you have medical conditions such as diabetes, poor circulation, gout, or arthritis. Although your podiatrist doesn’t treat the underlying medical condition, he or she works closely with your primary physician to provide care and catch problems early.

  • Diabetes: Diabetes can cause poor circulation or loss of feeling in your feet. Even a tender spot or tiny break can turn into an infection.
    Treatment Options: Regular check-ups, prompt treatment of sores or infections, or self care to prevent future problems.
  • Poor Circulation: Your feet may show symptoms of poor circulation first, including swelling, cramping, numbness, and slow healing.
    Treatment Options: Medication to aid healing or exercise to increase circulation.
  • Gout or Arthritis: Arthritis can cause stiff joints, swelling, and pain. Gout is a type of arthritis that often affects the feet, especially the big toe.
    Treatment Options: Medication or physical therapy to relieve symptoms, orthotics and braces to aid movement, or surgery to repair the joint.

BONE PROBLEMS

Your feet take a tremendous pounding. Walking on cement can give each foot a 180 pound jolt with each step. As years go by, this wear and tear can take its toll, in some cases shifting, deforming, or even breaking a bone. Combine this wear and tear with feet that widen over time and poorly fitting shoes, and you can end up with bone problems, a lot of pain, and an inability to move with ease.

Fortunately, there’s help. In many cases, your podiatrist can give you padding, medication, or orthotics to relieve discomfort, and perform surgery to correct the underlying bone problem.

  • Bunions: A bunion is a bump of bone on the side of the big toe, often caused by heredity or a widening foot.
    Treatment Options: Changes in shoes, orthotics, or surgery.
  • Hammertoes: Toe joints can tighten up because of too-short shoes or an inherited muscle imbalance.
    Treatment Options: Padding or orthotics to provide relief or surgery to correct the toe joint.
  • Heel Spurs: Painful lumps (spurs) can grow behind or under the heel bone.
    Treatment Options: Medication, physical therapy, or orthotics to relieve pain or surgery to remove the spur.
  • Fractures: Bone fractures may go undetected unless they cause pain and immobility.
    Treatment Options: Casts, splints, fracture boots, or surgery to help the bone heal.
  • Stiff Joints: Joints, especially in the big toe, can become stiff and painful.
    Treatment Options: Cortisone injections, exercise, whirlpool therapy, orthotics, or surgery to relieve the joint stiffness.

SKIN PROBLEMS

Feet seem especially susceptible to skin problems. Maybe it’s all the time your feet spend in dark, moist places, or perhaps it’s the lack of attention we often give them. Whatever the cause of a skin problem, your podiatrist can help provide the cure, from medication to surgery.

  • Warts: Small bumps cause by viruses, warts can appear anywhere. Plantar warts, the most painful, appear on the bottom of your foot.
    Treatment Options: Wart-removing medication or surgery.
  • Fungal Infections: Moist spots like those between your toes are prime spots for fungal infections (such as athlete’s foot) to develop.
    Treatment Options: Antifungal medication.
  • Corns and Calluses: Corns and calluses are dead skin cells that pile up, often where shoes rub the foot.
    Treatment Options: Orthotics, trimming, or surgery to correct the underlying bone problem.
  • Cracks and Sores: Cracks, sores, and ulcers on the skin can be slow to heal and can easily become infected.
    Treatment Options: Medication, wound care, and observation to limit future damage.

NAIL PROBLEMS

Do you have a painful or unsightly nail problem? Don’t ignore it – it probably won’t go away by itself. Nail problems are common complaints. Your podiatrist can treat them effectively with medication, surgical procedures, and general podiatric care, such as trimming nails.

  • Ingrown Nails: Nails can grow into the skin, causing pain. This is often a result of heredity or improper nail cutting.
    Treatment Options: Trimming to provide relief or corrective surgery.
  • Thick Nails: Nails can thicken as a result of a fungal infection or injury.
    Treatment Options: Thinning the nail or surgery to permanently remove the thickened nail.
  • Black-and-Blue Nail: Injury to a toe can cause bleeding and swelling under the nail. The nail looks black and blue.
    Treatment Options: Medication, soaks, or ice to reduce pain and swelling or draining fluid under the nail to relieve pressure.

SOFT TISSUE PROBLEMS

Ouch! Maybe you spent a few too many hours on your feet at work or you twisted your ankle during that softball game. Since you use your feet so much every day, it’s no wonder that the muscles and other soft tissue are susceptible to swelling, sprains, and other injuries.

Thankfully, there’s help for your aching feet. Your podiatrist can provide a wide range of treatments to reduce pain and swelling and to help you move with more comfort and ease.

  • Tendinitis: Overuse of muscles and other soft tissue may lead to pain and swelling.
    Treatment Options: Medication, orthotics, or physical therapy.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: The plantar fascia (soft tissue on the foot’s bottom) may be strained by overuse or weight.
    Treatment Options: Medication, orthotics, taping, ultrasound, hot and cold soaks, whirlpool, or surgery.
  • Ankle Sprains: Overuse or twists can tear soft tissue in the ankle.
    Treatment Options: Icing, compression, elevation, casts, taping, or surgery.

ARCH PROBLEMS

Did you know that the arch of your foot is made up of bones connected by muscles and other soft tissue? When these connections are too tight or too loose as a result of heredity, you can have arch problems. Your podiatrist can help relieve your discomfort with custom-made orthotics. In extreme cases, your podiatrist may perform surgery to create a normal arch.

  • Flatfeet: Flatfeet (low arches) can lead to hammertoes, bunions, heel spurs, pain, and foot and leg fatigue.
    Treatment Options: Orthotics to relieve pain or surgery to repair the arch.
  • High Arches: High arches can cause tired or aching feet, calluses, and heel or arch pain.
    Treatment Options: Orthotics to relieve pain or surgery to repair the arch.

NERVE CONDITIONS

If you suffer from sharp pain, numbness, or a burning feeling in your toes, a nerve condition may be the cause. Nerve conditions can result from wearing tight shoes, being on your feet too long, or general medical conditions. Nerve conditions can be hard to detect, but your podiatrist is trained to identify them, relieve any pain they cause, and, when possible, correct them.

  • Neuromas: A thickening of nerves – usually between toes – causes foot pain, numbness, burning or tingling.
    Treatment Options: Medication, orthotics, or ultrasound to relieve pain, or surgery to relieve pain and other symptoms.
  • Neuropathy: Diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, and other medical conditions can lead to loss of feeling, pain, or strange sensations in the feet.
    Treatment Options: Orthotics or medication to relieve pain and other symptoms.

PREVENTING FOOT PROBLEMS – What You Can Do To Keep Your Feet Fit

In addition to relieving pain and correcting your current foot problems, your podiatrist can provide tips to help you avoid foot trouble down the road. Although some foot problems are hereditary, there’s lots you can do to make sure your feet stand up to years of wear and tear. Preventive care can make a big difference in your mobility and health, especially if you have diabetes. Take care of your feet, buy the right shoes, and exercise right to make sure your feet stay healthy and pain-free for years to come.

FOOTNOTES: You take as many as 8,000 to 10,000 steps each day.

Take Care of Your Feet

  • Wash and dry your feet thoroughly every day, scrubbing around your toenails and between your toes.
  • Trim your nails straight across, using a toenail clipper. Your podiatrist can show you how or can do it for you if bending makes you dizzy or uncomfortable.
  • Check your feet regularly for cuts and infection. If you notice any problems, see your podiatrist.

Exercise Right

  • Walk as much as you can. It’s one of the biggest favors you can do for your feet.
  • Save your feet some grief by selecting the shoe that’s right for the activity, whether you’re walking, jogging, or playing tennis. Ask your podiatrist to show you foot-stretching exercises to prevent injuries when you exercise.

Buy the Right Shoes

    • Try on both shoes, since it’s likely that one foot is bigger than the other. Choose shoes that fit your larger foot.
    • Shop for new shoes in the afternoon, since feet tend to swell during the day.
    • Choose flats or low-heeled shoes. If you wear high heels, don’t keep them on too long, since they can cause calluses and make bunions hurt more.