A podiatrist is a medical specialist who helps with problems that affect your feet or lower legs. Podiatrists see patients of all ages to treat both injuries and complications from ongoing health issues like diabetes. Sometimes, a podiatrist is referred to as a podiatric physician or doctor of podiatric medicine.
Podiatrists have completed four years of podiatric medical school and two to three years of residency training. This means they are experts in foot and ankle health. While a general practitioner can treat minor foot concerns, a podiatrist has the specialized skills needed to treat more complex problems that are causing chronic pain or making it difficult to complete your daily activities.
Conditions Podiatrists Can Treat
Podiatrists can treat a wide variety of conditions, including:
- Bunions. A bunion is a deformity of the big toe, which can cause the big toe to point inward toward the second toe. This can cause pain and difficulty walking.
- Hammertoes. Hammertoe is a condition in which one or more of the small toes becomes bent at the joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. This can also cause pain and difficulty walking.
- Heel pain. Heel pain is a common condition that can be caused by a variety of factors, including Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.
- Ingrown toenails. An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of the nail grows into the flesh of the toe. This can cause pain, redness, and swelling.
- Neuromas. A neuroma is a benign growth of nerve tissue that can occur in the foot. This can cause tingling, numbness, and pain in the affected area.
- Traumatic injuries to the feet. Podiatrists can also treat traumatic injuries to the feet, such as fractures, sprains, and dislocations. This includes sports-related injuries.
- Pediatric foot problems. Some children have congenital foot problems, such as pediatric flat foot. A podiatrist can provide treatment to improve the function and appearance of the foot.
Podiatrists are also a resource for diabetic foot care. Diabetes can affect the feet in many ways. Poor blood sugar control can lead to nerve damage, which can cause pain, tingling, and numbness in the feet. Diabetes can also cause poor circulation, leading to infections and ulcers. Podiatrists can help manage these conditions and prevent complications.
If you are experiencing any of these conditions or any other issues with your feet, ankles, or lower legs, you should make an appointment to see a podiatrist as soon as possible.
What to Expect at Your Podiatrist's Office
When you visit a podiatrist's office, they will take a medical history and perform a physical examination. They’ll evaluate your ability to stand and walk without pain, look at the range of motion in your joints, and see if poorly fitting shoes might be contributing to your foot health. They may also order X-rays or other imaging tests.
Based on your examination results, the podiatrist will develop a treatment plan to help you get back to the activities you enjoy. Podiatrists use a variety of treatments to help patients find relief, including:
- Custom orthotics. Orthotics are devices inserted into the shoes to help support the foot and relieve pain.
- Medication. Podiatrists may prescribe medication to help relieve pain and inflammation.
- Physical therapy. Podiatrists may refer patients to physical therapy to help stretch and strengthen the muscles and tissues in the foot.
- Surgery. In some cases, podiatrists may recommend surgery to correct a deformity or to relieve pain.