What is a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist, also called a doctor of podiatric medicine, is a specialist who provides medical diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle problems, such as bunions, heel pain, spurs, hammertoes, neuromas, ingrown toenails, warts, corns and calluses. A podiatrist also renders care of sprains, fractures, infections, and injuries of the foot, ankle and heel. In addition to undergraduate medical school training, podiatrists also attend graduate school for a doctorate degree in podiatry. Podiatrists are required to take state and national exams, as well as be licensed by the state in which they practice.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are an estimated 15,000 practicing podiatrists in the United States. Podiatrists are in demand more than ever today because of a rapidly aging population. In addition, according to the association, foot disorders are among the most widespread and neglected health problems affecting people in this country.

Typically, podiatrists:

  • Consult with patients and other physicians on how to prevent foot problems.
  • Diagnose and treat tumors, ulcers, fractures, skin and nail diseases, and deformities.
  • Perform surgeries to correct or remedy such problems as bunions, clawtoes, fractures, hammertoes, infections, ruptured Achilles, and other ligaments and tendons.
  • Prescribe therapies and perform diagnostic procedures such as ultrasound and lab tests.
  • Prescribe or fits patients with inserts called orthotics that correct walking patterns.
  • Treat conditions such as: bone disorders, bunions, corns, calluses, cysts, heel spurs, infections, ingrown nails, and plantar fasciitis.

When to Call a Doctor

People call a doctor of podiatry for help diagnosing and treating a wide array of foot and ankle problems. Please contact our office if you experience one of the following:

  • Persistent pain in your feet or ankles.
  • Changes in the nails or skin on your foot.
  • Severe cracking, scaling, or peeling on the heel or foot.
  • Blisters on your feet.

There are signs of bacterial infection, including:

  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, tenderness, or heat.
  • Red streaks extending from the affected area.
  • Discharge or pus from an area on the foot.
  • Foot or ankle symptoms that do not improve after two weeks of treatment with a nonprescription product.
  • Spreading of an infection from one area of the foot to another, such as under the nail bed, skin under the nail, the nail itself, or the surrounding skin.
  • Thickening toenails that cause discomfort.
  • Heel pain accompanied by a fever, redness (sometimes warmth), or numbness.
  • Tingling in the heel; persistent heel pain without putting any weight or pressure on your heel
  • Pain that is not alleviated by ice or over-the-counter painkillers (such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
  • Diabetics with poor circulation who develop Athlete’s Foot.

Overview of Foot and Ankle problems

Foot and ankle problems usually fall into the following categories:

  • Acquired from improper footwear, physical stress, or small mechanical changes within the foot.
  • Arthritic foot problems, which typically involve one or more joints.
  • Congenital foot problems, which occur at birth and are generally inherited.
  • Infectious foot problems, which are caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal problems.
  • Neoplastic disorders, also known as tumors, which are the result of abnormal growth of tissue anywhere on the foot and may be benign or malignant.
  • Traumatic foot problems, which are associated with foot and ankle injuries, such as fractures.

Leading foot problems are:
Bunions—misaligned big toe joints that swell and become tender, causing the first joint of the big toe to slant outward and the second joint to angle toward the other toes. Bunions tend to be hereditary, but can be aggravated by shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot and toe. Surgery is frequently performed to correct the problem.

Hammertoes—usually stemming from muscle imbalance, this condition occurs when the toe is bent into a claw-like position. Hammertoe can affect any toe, but most frequently occurs to the second toe, when a bunion slants the big toe toward and under it. Selecting shoes and socks that do not cramp the toes may help alleviate any aggravation of pain or discomfort.

Heel Spurs—growths of bone on the underside, forepart of the heel bone. Heel spurs occur when the plantar tendon pulls at its attachment to the heel bone. This area of the heel later calcifies to form a spur. Proper warm-up and the use of appropriate athletic shoes can reduce the strain to the ligament and prevent the formation of heel spurs.

Ingrown Toenails—toenails with corners or sides that dig painfully into the skin. Ingrown toenails are usually caused by improper nail trimming, but can also result from shoe pressure, injury, fungus infection, heredity, and poor foot structure. Women are more likely to have ingrown toenails than men. The problem can be prevented by trimming toenails straight across, selecting proper shoe styles and sizes, and responding to foot pain in a timely manner.

Neuromas—enlarged benign growths of nerves, most commonly between the third and fourth toes. Neuromas are caused by tissue rubbing against and irritating the nerves. Pressure from ill-fitting shoes or abnormal bone structure can also lead to this condition. Depending on the severity, treatments may include orthotics (shoe inserts), cortisone injections, and, in extreme cases, surgical removal of the growth.

Plantar Fasciitis—an inflammation on the bottom of the foot that leads to heel and/or arch pain. A variety of foot injuries or improper foot mechanics can lead to plantar fasciitis. Treatments range from icing and foot exercises to the prescription of custom orthotics to correct the foot position and help alleviate pain.

Sesamoiditis—an inflammation or rupture of the two small bones (known as sesamoids) under the first metatarsal bone. Proper shoe selection and orthotics can help.

Shin Splints—pain on either side of the leg bone caused by muscle or tendon inflammation. Shin splints are related to excessive foot pronation, but also may be related to a muscle imbalance between opposing muscle groups in the leg. Proper stretching before and after exercise and corrective orthotics for pronation can help prevent shin splints.

Stress Fractures—incomplete cracks in bone caused by overuse. With complete rest, stress fractures in toes or any bones of the foot heal quickly. Extra padding in shoes can help prevent the condition. Left untreated, stress fractures may become complete bone fractures, which require casting and immobilization.

Basic Foot Care Guidelines

Don’t ignore foot pain. It is not normal. If you experience any type of persistent pain in the foot or ankle, please contact our office.

Inspect your feet regularly. Pay attention to changes in color and temperature. Look for thick or discolored nails (a sign of developing fungus), and check for cracks or cuts in the skin. Peeling or scaling on the soles of feet may indicate Athlete’s Foot. Any growth on the foot is not considered normal.

Wash your feet regularly, especially between the toes, and be sure to dry them completely.

Trim toenails straight across, but not too short. Be careful not to cut nails in corners or on the sides; this can lead to ingrown toenails. Persons with diabetes, poor circulation, or heart problems should not treat their own feet, because they are more prone to infection.

Make sure that your shoes fit properly. Purchase new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest, and replace worn out shoes as soon as possible.

Select and wear the right shoe for each sport or activity that you are engaged in (e.g., running shoes for running).

Alternate shoes—don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day.

Avoid walking barefooted. Your feet will be more prone to injury and infection. At the beach or when wearing sandals always use sunblock on your feet.

Be cautious when using home remedies for foot ailments. Self-treatment may turn a minor problem into a major one.

If you are a diabetic, please contact our office and schedule a check-up at least once a year.

Government Links

National Institutes of Health
http://www.nih.gov
NIHInfo@OD.NIH.GOV (e-mail)
(301) 496-4000

National Institute on Aging 
http://www.nih.gov/nia 
Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20898-8057
(800) 222-2225
(800) 222-4225 (TTY)

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
http://www.niddk.nih.gov
Building 31
Room 9A04 Center Drive, MSC 2560
Bethesda, MD 20892-2560

 

Online Links

Mayo Clinic Online
http://www.mayoclinic.com
MedlinePlus

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus

A resource of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the

National Institutes of Health

PodiatryOnline

http://www.podiatry-online.net

WebMD

http://www.webmd.com

Association/ Group Links

American Diabetes Association

http://www.diabetes.org

800-342-2383

American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine

http://www.aapsm.org

888-854-FEET

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

http://www.aaos.org

6300 N. River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018
847-823-7186

American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons

http://www.footphysicians.com and http://www.acfas.org 

8725 W. Higgins Road, Sutie 555
Chicago, IL 60631-2724
773-693-9300

American Physical Therapy Association

http://www.apta.org

1111 N. Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
800-999-2782