Feet and ankles are incredibly complex parts of the human body. They’re also heavily used and prone to all kinds of problems. You’ve probably heard that you’re supposed to see a podiatrist when you’re suffering from a foot-related pain or condition. But you might wonder, what does a podiatrist treat and how does this specialist different from an orthopedist?
We’re going to answer some of the most common questions about podiatrists and their occupational scope. We’ll also guide you through the process of choosing a podiatrist, as well as preparing for an appointment.
What Is a Podiatrist?
We hear the term “podiatrist” used a lot in the context of feet, but there might be a little confusion about what they actually do. Essentially, a podiatrist is a medical specialist who treats patients who have problems with the lower-leg area.
When addressing the question of what a podiatrist treats, we should mention some of the most frequent conditions. Apart from lower-leg injuries, podiatrists treat problems with the feet associated with diabetes and other chronic health conditions. They’re also the experts you want to see when you’re experiencing an abnormal or irregular gait.
Another reason to visit a podiatrist is to get custom-made insoles for your shoes during ongoing treatment of your feet or other conditions. You may also want to ask for his or her assessment of what type of shoes would be best suited for your feet.
What are the Academic and Certification Requirements for a Podiatrist?
It might appear that a podiatrist is a type of doctor, and that’s true. But unlike other medical specialists, podiatrists don’t go to a traditional medical school.
Their education takes place in institutions created specifically for their profession. While in college, they need to take classes like chemistry, physics, biology, and other science classes. Most choose biology or chemistry as their undergraduate major.
After college, they must go to a podiatry school for four years. In the United States, the podiatry school needs to have the accreditation of the American Podiatric Medical Association for its graduates to obtain a license to practice podiatry.
Podiatry school is where students learn about the nerves, bones, and all the muscles in your feet and ankles. Once they finish podiatry school, a three-year residency in a hospital is required. And that is when a podiatrist can get an additional certification if they choose to do surgeries as part of their practice.
It’s also very important to point out that podiatrist and orthopedist are not interchangeable terms, although there is plenty of overlap in what they do. An orthopedist is a medical doctor who went to a traditional medical school.
And while podiatrists perform surgeries and treat feet and ankles, they are also allowed to treat other parts of the body. An orthopedist will have MD after their name, whereas the podiatrist will have DPM, which stands for “doctor of podiatric medicine.”
When Should I See a Podiatrist?
It’s easy to take our feet for granted, because they usually carry us around with very few complaints. But the truth is because they’re so complex, they can be very sensitive too. These are some of the most common reasons people decide to visit a podiatrist.
Heel pain is at the top of the list, as many people experience it at some point in their lifetime. And the reasons vary, from calcium build-up to running injuries or excess weight. Conditions like plantar fasciitis, overpronation, and Achilles tendinitis are also some of the most frequent diagnoses.
Sprains and Fractures
When you sprain your ankle, you need to see a podiatrist. And if a sprain turns out to be a fracture, a podiatrist can help. This is why many work in sports medicine and with athletes in general.
Hammertoes and Bunions
Bone and nail disorders are a part of podiatrists’ area of expertise, too. Bunions happen when your big toe’s joint is no longer in its place or when it gets bigger. And hammertoe is when a middle joint of your toe bends abnormally.
Your foot has over 30 joints. And when you have arthritis, they can become inflamed and swollen. A podiatrist can prescribe physical therapy, medication, and recommend shoes to wear to address this problem.
Because diabetes can damage nerves in the legs and feet and cause poor blood circulation, it can lead to amputation. Podiatrists are there to help prevent that outcome by treating sores, calluses, and other related issues.
What Should I Look for in a Podiatrist?
Knowing what a podiatrist treats is one thing, but it’s a different matter to choose the right podiatrist. While experience isn’t everything, it’s perfectly understandable if you want someone who has some years behind them in treating the condition you have.
How Do I Find a Good Foot Specialist?
It can be challenging looking for a podiatrist that can help you with your lower-leg problem. Searching for a specialist online will likely lead you podiatrists who are near you.
Before going any further, make sure that they clearly display their credentials, whether online or at their office.
Another good approach is to ask for references and talk to others whom they have treated. Once at their office, make sure their place of business looks professional and their equipment appears in good condition.
Where Can I Find Reviews?
One way to find podiatrist reviews is to choose a podiatrist’s office that you’ve heard good things about and check for reviews of its doctors online. You can also look to see if they’re featured on Yelp. A different angle is to browse medical forums and see what reviewers say.
How Do I Prepare for a Podiatrist Appointment?
Once you’ve scheduled your podiatrist appointment, you can do a few things to better prepare for it:
- Make a list of your symptoms
- Make a list of any medications you’re currently taking
- Bring any relevant X-rays or test results with you
- Bring the shoes you most frequently wear
- Remember to mention any allergies
- Prepare any questions you might have
How Do I Prepare for a Virtual Podiatrist Appointment?
If your appointment with a podiatrist will take place online, the preparations listed above will also apply. But since it’s a virtual appointment from your home and not one set in an office, here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you find a quiet spot for the appointment, and one that is well-lit.
- To get the best audio quality, use headphones.
- Be prepared for technical difficulties and try to stay as flexible as possible.
What Will Happen at My Appointment?
You can expect questions about your medical history and your symptoms, just like you would with any other doctor. However, the podiatrist will likely ask you to stand or walk.
They will examine your foot or ankle closely and check the range of motion of your joints. You will probably also be asked how your shoes fit.
Do I Need to See a Pediatric Podiatrist for My Child?
A child’s foot is not like the foot of an adult. Until a child is fully grown, their feet are still developing. So, it makes sense that you’d want to take your growing child to a pediatric podiatrist. They are qualified professionals that have more knowledge about the specific biomechanics of children’s feet.
Will My Podiatrist Mind the Smelly Feet?
Many people feel insecure when it’s time to visit a podiatrist because they’re worried about foot odor. While that’s perfectly understandable, it’s not something a person should be concerned about.
A podiatrist is there to help you. You also don’t need to have a pedicure, paint your toenails, or shave your legs before you see a podiatrist.
What Is the APMA Seal of Acceptance and Seal of Approval?
When shoes, insoles, socks, and other products related to the foot have the APMA Seal of Acceptance and Seal of approval, it means that they are designed to support the health of your feet. For a product to earn this certification, it needs to be approved by a group of APMA podiatrists.