Podiatrists are medically qualified to treat conditions of the lower limb and on a daily basis, will treat a wide range of conditions including arthritis pain, bunions, calluses and corns, diabetes complications, ingrown toenails, sports injuries, and more. They are trained to diagnose infections of the foot and toenails and can treat patients of all ages with foot and ankle complications related to other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and peripheral arterial disease.
What Is a Podiatrist?
- Foot Conditions
- Risk Factors
- Why see a Podiatrist
- When to see a Podiatrist
A Podiatrist is a foot health care professional (now commonly referred to as a “Foot Doctor”). They are also called a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine or DPM (post nominals here in WA). A Podiatrist will have the letters DPM after their name or any variation of post nominals depending when and where they graduated/matriculated from (in WA if graduating from UWA after 2015).
This kind of Podiatrist or Podiatric Surgeon treats the foot, ankle, and connecting parts of the leg (associated structures). An older name for a Podiatrist is Chiropodist, which is sometimes still used in other Commonwealth Countries.
Podiatrists complete four years of undergraduate study then do GAMSATS or MCATS and then do a 3 year graduate Podiatric Medicine Degree at UWA. Finally, after passing all the required exams, Podiatrists are registered and licenced with AHPRA. Some Podiatrists may also complete more specialized fellowship training that focuses on a certain area. This makes a Podiatrist a specialist in foot health.
A Podiatrist who specializes in foot surgery is called a Podiatric Surgeon. They are registered and licenced by AHPRA. A Podiatric Surgeon has passed special exams in both general foot health and surgery for foot conditions and injuries.
Podiatrists must also be licensed to practice in the state that they work in. They cannot practice without a license. Like all health care providers, Podiatrists must renew their licenses every year. They also need to keep up to date with their training and other CPD by attending special yearly seminars.
Podiatrists treat people of all ages. Most treat a range of general foot conditions. This is similar to a family doctor or general care physician.
Some podiatrists are specialized in different areas of foot medicine. They may be specialists in:
- wound care
- sports medicine
- pediatric (children)
- other kinds of foot care
If your feet hurt you might need to see a podiatrist. Even if you don’t have foot pain, it’s a good idea to get your feet checked. A podiatrist can safely remove hard skin on your feet and clip your toenails correctly. They can also tell you what kinds of shoes are best for your feet.
Common foot problems
The most common foot problems include:
- Ingrown toenails
- nail infections
- foot infections
- smelly feet
- heel pain
- heel spurs
- dry or cracked heel skin
- flat feet
- hammer toes
- foot injuries
- foot ligament or muscle pain
Other podiatrists focus on specific feet issues, such as:
- bunion removal
- fractures or broken bones
- skin or nail diseases
- wound care
- artery (blood flow) disease
- walking patterns
- corrective orthotics (foot braces and insoles)
- flexible casts
- foot prosthetics
Having certain health conditions can trigger foot issues in some people. Those include:
- high cholesterol
- poor blood circulation
- heart disease and stroke
People with diabetes are at higher risk of foot problems. Pay close attention to any change in how your feet feel. Keep a journal of all signs and symptoms relating to your feet. Treating an underlying condition can help ease foot pain.
Let your podiatrist know if you have any symptoms of diabetic foot complications, like:
- dry or cracked skin
- calluses or hard skin
- cracked or dry toenails
- discoloured toenails
- a bad foot smell
- sharp or burning pain
- numbness or tingling
- sore or ulcer
- pain in your calves (lower legs) when walking
Why see a podiatrist?
You might need to see both your family doctor and a podiatrist if you have pain or an injury in any part of the foot. You may also see other kinds of specialist doctors. Physiotherapy may also help your symptoms.
Your family doctor or general care physician can examine your foot to find out what is causing your pain. Tests and scans for foot pain include:
- blood test
- nail swab
- MRI scan
Here are a few reasons you may need to see your doctor or podiatrist for foot conditions:
- Nail infection. If your foot pain is caused by a general health condition your family doctor may be able to treat it with medication. For example, you may need antifungal medication to treat a nail infection.
- Gout and arthritis: These can cause pain in your feet and toes. Treatment is needed to help ease symptoms of both gout and arthritis. Your family doctor or your podiatrist can treat these conditions.
- Flat feet: You may need to wear orthotics, such as a foot brace or arch support, for flat feet and weak or injured foot ligaments. A podiatrist will take molds of your feet to make custom foot support braces for you.
- Diabetes can cause nerve damage in your feet and other areas. This can lead to numbness, pain, and ulcers on your feet and legs. If you have foot issues due to diabetes you will need to see a podiatrist and other doctors. This may include your family physician, a vascular (blood vessel) surgeon, and neurologist (nerve specialist).
- Ankle and knee problems: You may need to see a podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, and sports medicine doctor to help treat the cause of an ankle or knee problem. You may also need long-term physio therapy to strengthen the joints and muscles in your knee, ankle, and foot.
When to see a podiatrist
The foot is made up of 26 bones. This complex part of your body also has a number of:
All of the parts of your feet are designed to support your weight and help you stand, walk, and run.
Foot pain can limit your movement. Some health conditions can damage your feet if they are not treated properly. A podiatrist is an expert on every part of the foot.
See a podiatrist if you have foot pain or injury. Get urgent medical care if you have any of these symptoms for more than one or two days:
- severe pain
- numbness or tingling
- open sore or wound
- infection (redness, warmth, tenderness, or a fever)
Call your podiatrist or family doctor immediately if you are unable to walk or can’t put weight on your foot.
The bottom line
Get your feet checked by your podiatrist even if you have healthy feet. This can help prevent foot, toe, and nail problems. You can also learn what to look out for and what shoes and insoles are best for your feet.
A podiatrist can help diagnose your foot problem and find the best treatment plan for you. They are foot specialists who have spent years of study and training to help keep your feet healthy.