Feet and ankles take more wear and tear than just about any other body part. Whether running, cooking, standing in line, or checking errands off your to-do list, your feet and ankles are in constant use.
When such an essential body part gets injured or is not functioning as it should, it can significantly impact your quality of life. Therefore, it is vital that you treat your foot injuries quickly. The right foot doctor can help you get back to your active lifestyle.
What is a Podiatrist?
A podiatrist is a physician and surgeon specializing in foot and ankle conditions and health. Podiatrists earn a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) degree. Their extensive training makes podiatrists experts in injuries and health conditions that impact the feet, ankles, and lower legs.
While podiatrists are doctors, they do not go through the same training as medical doctors (MDs). Podiatry has its own type of school and training program. Podiatry school is a four-year program. Candidates enter the program after earning a bachelor’s degree, usually in a science-related field.
During the podiatry program, students study the structure of the foot, including bones, muscles, vasculature, and connective tissues. They learn about all the conditions that affect the feet and how to repair injuries surgically.
After graduating from podiatry school with a DPM, podiatrists complete a residency. They work in a hospital for at least three years honing their skills and working with other physicians and surgeons to treat patients.
Some podiatrists go on to complete fellowships, earn additional advanced certifications, and specialize in certain areas of foot health. These include surgery, sports medicine, wound care, diabetic care, and pediatrics.
Podiatrists work in several different healthcare settings. Some see patients in private practices, specialty group practices, or surgery centers. Others work in hospitals or trauma centers.
What Do Podiatrists Treat?
If it’s related to the feet and ankles, podiatrists are experts in and will treat the condition or symptom. Podiatrists treat and help patients manage a wide range of medical conditions that affect the feet:
- Arthritis. Arthritis is the deterioration of joint connective tissue that causes pain, swelling, and reduced mobility. There are 33 separate joints in the feet that can be affected by this condition. Podiatrists also treat gout, a type of painful arthritis that often occurs in the feet.
- Injuries. Podiatrists treat any type of injury to the foot, including fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, sprains and strains of connective tissue, sport-related injuries, puncture wounds, and more. They can provide non-surgical and surgical treatments.
- Bunions and Hammer Toes. When the big toe joint moves out of place, it results in a bony lump on the outside of the toe. Hammer toes occur when the smaller toes bend upward at the middle joint. Both conditions can be painful and limit mobility.
- Toenail Conditions. Podiatrists treat issues of the toenails as well, including fungal infections and ingrown nails.
- Heel Problems. Heel pain is a common complaint podiatrists help manage. Heel pain can result from a condition called Haglund’s deformity, tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, or in children, a condition called Sever’s disease, which is related to the growth plate.
- Skin Conditions. Skin problems that affect the feet include corns and calluses, areas of thickened skin that can become painful. Podiatrists also address warts, athlete’s foot, psoriasis, excessive sweating, and skin cancer.
- Diabetes. Podiatrists are essential members of treatment teams for diabetes. Many people with this chronic illness develop open sores on the feet. Diabetes can also cause Charcot foot, a deformity of the foot or ankle that can lead to serious complications if not treated.
- Vascular Conditions. Podiatrists also play a role in managing conditions related to veins and arteries, like high blood pressure. Peripheral artery disease, a narrowing of arteries in the legs, also affects the feet.