The word "podiatry" comes from two Greek roots meaning "foot" and "treatment." A podiatrist's education and training focuses primarily on diagnosing and treating conditions of the feet and ankles. To that end, they earn a special, separate type of degree that is different from that of a medical doctor, called a DPM, or Doctor of…
When Should You See a Podiatrist?
Colloquially known as a foot doctor, a podiatrist specializes in health conditions related to the feet and ankles. Doctors of podiatric medicine are trained to diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of conditions occurring in the ankle downward. These doctors are perhaps most well-known for working with athletes, but there are many other reasons a patient may need to see a DPM.
Some reasons to see a podiatrist
There are many reasons a patient may be referred to a doctor of podiatric medicine. Note that some of these are symptoms of other diseases rather than independent health issues. As a result, DPMs often work closely alongside other professionals, such as general surgeons, oncologists and pediatricians.
Diabetic patients often suffer nerve damage in the feet due to poor circulation. Podiatrists help to prevent further damage and rehabilitate these patients. In the worst-case scenario, surgery may be necessary for an amputation. Cancer patients suffering from osteosarcoma may also need foot surgery, including possible amputations.
Some podiatrists may work in trauma centers or emergency care units to provide podiatric surgery. Common reasons a patient may need emergency foot surgery include the following:
- Assault or battery
- Sports-related incident
- Motor vehicle accident
- Bad fall off a bike or skateboard
Older patients may turn to a DPM for assistance with treating arthritis. This may include gout, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. All of these can make it excruciatingly difficult for a person to walk, which negatively impacts the quality of life.
Some deformities may be birth defects, but others may develop as people grow older, such as bunions. Deformities may also be caused by skin and nail conditions, such as corns, calluses and ingrown nails. All of these can be safely treated by a foot doctor.
Methods used to treat conditions
Like any other type of doctor, a podiatric physician follows specific procedures to diagnose and treat the various illnesses that may fall within their health portfolio.
Identifying potential problems with the foot and ankle usually begins with a review of the patient’s medical history. How the doctor proceeds will depend on the information found here. Further tests may include blood tests, ultrasounds, bone scans and flexibility tests. These help the doctor to identify the source of the problems as well as the extent of the damage if any.
Treatment will depend on the problem identified through testing. Some conditions may be treated topically, such as some skin and nail conditions. Bone fractures are most commonly treated with casts, braces or splints. The conditions that may require surgery include arthritis, diabetic foot disorders, neuromas, foot deformities and some sports injuries.
The bottom line
Not every discomfort or pain in the foot or ankle requires a doctor’s attention. Sometimes pain killers and rest are all that is needed. However, if the pain persists and there is swelling or tenderness, it may be wise to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist. Other symptoms of the foot and ankle that may require immediate attention include numbness, infections, open sores, fractures or difficulty walking.
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