Podiatrists, or doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) is a comprehensive foot and ankle physician. They specialize in treating problems and conditions of the lower leg, ankle and foot. Podiatrists are also sometimes referred to as “foot doctors” or “podiatric surgeons”.
What does a Podiatrist Treat?
Our feet experience a lot of wear and tear during our lifetime, which means we are likely to develop a few foot problems at some point. A podiatrist can help you find relief and get you back on your feet pain free. Podiatrists treat a wide range of conditions that affect people of all ages. Some common conditions podiatrists treat are:
- Callouses and corns
- Ankle and foot deformities (congenital and acquired)
- Morton’s neuroma
- Fractures and breaks
- Heel spurs
- Ingrown toenails
- Athlete’s foot
What Tests or Procedures do Podiatrists Perform?
Problems with foot, ankle, or heel discomfort, or issues with mobility are signs you should visit a podiatrist for an assessment. Your podiatrist will begin by performing a physical exam of the affected foot or ankle. They will also assess your gait as you walk.
If they suspect something else may be the cause of your discomfort, they may order additional imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, CT scan, or an ultrasound. They can also order bloodwork to test for rheumatoid arthritis, or if they suspect the patient may have peripheral artery disease (PAD).
If you have ingrown toenails, corns, callouses, or plantar warts, your podiatrist can normally perform a procedure during your appointment to reduce their size or remove them.
Does a podiatrist receive special training?
Podiatry is a medical profession that focuses on treating conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Because these physicians specialize in treating the lower extremities, their training and education is different from that of a medical doctor.
Aspiring podiatrists will first obtain a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a similar field of science. After they graduate, they must apply to a podiatric medical school accredited by the Council on Podiatric Medical Education (CPME).
After completing another four years at a podiatric medical school, they must apply to a residency program. A minimum of two years in residency training is required at an approved healthcare facility. During their rotations, they receive interdisciplinary experience working with physicians in other fields of medicine such as anesthesiology, orthopedics, emergency medicine, vascular, wound care, and dermatology.
After completing their residency, podiatrists can pursue further training with a fellowship program. They must also apply for a license to practice. Podiatrists may sit for one of the recognized Board exams to receive their Board certification for extra credentialing.
To maintain licensing, podiatrists must continue their training and education, ensuring they stay current with the latest medical trends and treatments.
When should I see a podiatrist?
Foot, ankle and heel pain can be debilitating and severely affect your quality of life. Problems of the foot and ankle can be due to poorly fitting shoes, overuse, or medical conditions like arthritis.
The anatomy of the foot is very complex. Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and over a hundred tendons, ligaments and muscles. Because podiatrists specialize in solely treating conditions of the feet and ankles, you are likely to get a faster diagnosis and treatment when seeing a podiatrist for any foot or ankle related issues.
Runners, especially those new to the sport, are prone to shin splints and improper fitting footwear. People who increase their activity level too quickly are also susceptible to plantar fasciitis. Podiatrists can assess how well your running shoes fit, and if orthotic inserts for flat feet or high arch support are needed.
Diabetics can also benefit from seeing a podiatrist as the condition increases your risk of developing foot problems due to poor circulation and nerve damage. Swelling, numbness, dry skin, skin ulcers, discoloration, infection, and pain are potential foot problems for people with diabetes. Seeing a podiatrist regularly can also help lower the risk of amputation due to diabetes.
If you have an ingrown toenail, bunions, corns, callouses, or a fungus like athlete’s foot, a podiatrist can help treat these conditions with oral or topical medication, cortisone injections, and surgery.
Having difficulty walking due to heel pain or suspect you may have broken or sprained something? Podiatrists will perform a physical exam of the foot, order imaging tests such as an X-ray, and diagnose any fractures, broken bones, sprains, Achilles tendinitis, tears or heel spurs. Depending on how badly the break or tear is, they can perform surgery to reset the bones and repair or reconstruct torn ligaments, muscles and tendons. They can also correct congenital and acquired deformities, like hammertoes.
Do I need a referral to see a podiatrist?
In most cases, you do not need a referral to see a podiatrist. However, it is all dependent on your insurance plan. Many discounted or reimbursement plans may require a referral, so it is always best to check with your insurance before scheduling an appointment. If your plan happens to require one, the cost of the visit may not be covered if one is not obtained beforehand.