A podiatrist is an individual who specializes in the medical care and treatment of the foot
In some states, podiatrists can also treat ankle and lower limb conditions, including ulcers, nerve damage in the feet, and sports injuries.
Podiatrists attend podiatric medical schools. They also complete several years of training in hospitals and clinics.
Read on to learn what podiatrists do, the types of conditions they treat, and more.
A podiatrist is a healthcare specialist who diagnoses and treats medical conditions and injuries that primarily involve the feet. Sometimes, they can also diagnose and treat ankle and lower limb problems, although this depends on where they work.
Podiatrists undergo extensive education and training programs before they start treating people.
Podiatrists receive doctorate degrees from accredited institutions of podiatric medicine. Although they have extensive knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, their training concentrates on treating the lower extremities, specifically the feet.
Podiatrists gain hands-on experience during residency training in hospitals and healthcare clinics. After completing this training, they must pass a series of board certification exams. A fully licensed podiatrist has the letters DPM after their name, which stands for Doctor of Podiatric Medicine.
People may want to make an appointment with a podiatrist if they experience pain, numbness, or swelling in their foot.
Podiatrists can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions, including:
- foot injuries, such as fractured or broken bones, as well as sprains and strains
- foot pain and inflammation due to arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout
- diabetic foot disorders, such as infections, chronic ulcers, and nerve damage or neuropathy
- structural foot abnormalities, including hammertoe, flat feet, and high arches
- skin conditions, such as warts, corns, plantar dermatosis, and athlete’s foot
- nail conditions, including ingrown nails and nail infections
- causes of heel pain, such as plantar fasciitis
Some podiatrists treat a variety of general foot conditions, similar to primary care doctors. Others specialize in specific types of podiatric medicine, such as sports medicine or wound care.
Other podiatric specialties include:
- pediatric care
- geriatric care
- neurologic foot conditions
- circulatory food conditions
- autoimmune and inflammatory conditions
- general or reconstructive surgery
Podiatrists usually begin the diagnostic process by reviewing the person’s medical history and current symptoms.
They then perform a basic physical examination of the foot. During this exam, they look for signs of swelling and skin discoloration. They may ask a person to walk around or to move their foot and toes in different directions.
Based on their initial findings, they may recommend additional tests before making their final diagnosis. Podiatrists can use the following diagnostic tools:
- Imaging tests, including X-ray, ultrasound, bone scan, CT scan, and MRI scan. These tests can reveal bone fractures, blocked or narrow blood vessels, and other structural problems.
- Blood tests to detect the presence of an infection or inflammatory or autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Quantitative sensory testing uses a specialized computer system that records how well the nerves perceive changes in temperature and vibration. Podiatrists use this test for diagnosing diabetic neuropathy, hypersensitivity, and other nerve disorders of the foot.
- Electromyography (EMG) measures how well muscles respond to nerve impulses. During the test, a healthcare provider inserts one or more thin needles, called electrodes, into the muscle to pick up electrical activity from the muscle tissue. Abnormal EMG results reveal a problem with the nerve and can help your podiatrist guide your treatment.
Once a podiatrist makes a diagnosis, they can recommend treatment. A podiatrist may work with another specialist or an entire healthcare team, depending on the type and severity of the condition.
Podiatrists can provide the following treatments:
- setting fractured bones
- prescription medication, such as pain relievers, antibiotics, and antifungals
- corticosteroid, or cortisone, joint injections
- joint aspiration, or removing fluid from the space around a joint
- corrective footwear
- orthotic devices, including insoles and braces
Podiatric surgeons perform different surgical procedures to:
- treat inflamed or torn tendons and ligaments
- set broken bones
- remove bunions, bone spurs, and tumors
- debridement of damaged, infected, or dead tissue
- correct structural abnormalities, such as hammertoes and flat feet
Podiatrists must complete the following education and training requirements:
- 4-year bachelor’s degree
- 4-year Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree
- 3-year residency training
- national board certification
- state license to practice
Podiatrists who decide to specialize in certain areas of podiatric medicine must complete a fellowship program after their residency. Podiatrists get direct experience in their subspecialty during the fellowship. They also need to pass certification exams in their subspecialties.
A podiatrist is a doctor of podiatric medicine. However, they are not the same as medical doctors (MDs), also known as physicians.
Although podiatrists are not technically physicians, their education and training requirements are similar to those of medical doctors. Podiatrists receive specialized education in disorders of the foot, ankle, and lower leg.
Although podiatrists and orthopedists can treat similar medical issues, they are not the same type of doctor. A podiatrist only treats disorders of the foot and, in some instances, the ankle and lower leg. An orthopedist, or orthopedic surgeon, specializes in musculoskeletal disorders that affect the entire body.
Orthopedists treat both acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions, such as:
- ligament and tendon injuries
- neck and back pain
- hand and wrist injuries
- sports injuries
- chronic muscle pain
Many orthopedic surgeons specialize in certain areas of the body, such as the hand, spine, or hip. Others focus on specific types of treatment, including total joint reconstruction, orthopedic trauma surgery, and sports medicine.
While some orthopedic surgeons specialize in the treatment of the foot and ankle, many people seek initial care from podiatrists.
The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and many muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Foot problems can significantly impact a person’s everyday life.
A podiatrist can diagnose and treat a wide range of foot disorders, ranging from fractured bones to complications of underlying medical conditions, including diabetes and arthritis.
People should see a podiatrist if they have:
- recently injured their foot
- severe swelling of the foot
- skin discoloration
- an open foot wound that does not heal
- numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the foot
If a person is experiencing foot pain or discomfort, they may want to see a podiatrist for examination.