When Do I Need to Go to a Podiatrist?


We all experience foot pain at some point in our lives. But when does foot pain necessitate a visit to a podiatrist? Today we look at the training podiatrists go through, common conditions they treat, and when you should visit one.

What is a podiatrist and what training does a podiatrist go through?

Podiatrists can evaluate, diagnose and treat common conditions and injuries affecting the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). In order to be certified, podiatrists need to complete four years of medical training at a podiatric medical school, followed by three years of residency training in a hospital. Podiatrists can specialize in many areas, including sports medicine, wound care, pediatrics, diabetic care and surgery.

After they have completed their training, podiatrists earn a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) degree. Podiatrists may then sit for board certification in foot and ankle surgery.

Gail Rucker, DPM, a podiatrist who practices at Comprehensive Orthopaedic Global in the Virgin Islands, says that this training helps podiatrists “learn all the aspects of the foot, from its developmental stage to its functional stage.”

What common conditions do podiatrists treat?

According to Dr. Rucker, podiatrists treat many conditions related to the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg, including:

  • Bunions: These bumps usually show up on the joint at the base of the big toe, causing pain, swelling, roughened skin and redness. According to the APMA, they can be caused by faulty foot development, the way you walk, your foot type, your shoes, or by foot injuries, congenital deformities and neuromuscular disorders.
  • Corns and calluses: While everyone develops a callus at one time or another, serious calluses and corns can cause foot pain when the thick and hardened dead skin forms pressure and causes friction.
  • Heel pain: Heel pain can be caused by many things, including heel spurs (protrusions of bone from the heel bone), plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.
  • Plantar fasciitis: This painful condition occurs when the soft tissue fibers of the fascia on the bottom of the foot are inflamed.
  • Morton’s neuroma: A neuroma is a benign tumor or growth of nerve tissue that can cause a tingling or burning sensation in the foot, as well as numbness.
  • Athlete’s foot: Fungus on the feet causes athlete’s foot. According to the APMA, the fungus tends to grow in humid, dark and warm environments, and can cause dry skin, itching, inflammation and blisters.
  • Flat feet: Feet are meant to absorb the shock of walking and running. Flat feet are less capable of absorbing shock, which leads to foot pain.
  • Diabetic ulcers: These open sores or wounds affect an estimated 15% of people with diabetes. They usually occur on the sole of the foot and if left untreated can become infected, possibly leading to eventual amputation of the foot.
  • Fungus nails: Sometimes fungus can grow underneath nail surfaces. This fungus is called onychomycosis and causes the nail to grow darker and smell bad. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other toes, and cause pain that can interfere with daily routines.
  • Hammer toes: Hammer toes usually affect the first joint of a toe and cause toes to be permanently bent. According to the APMA, they can cause foot pain, redness and swelling in the affected joint, pain in the ball of the foot, formation of corns on the top of the joint and restricted movement.
  • Warts: Warts are caused by viruses, and when they appear on the foot they are called plantar warts.
  • Ingrown toenails: When toenails dig into the toes, they can cause considerable pain. Sometimes the nails can grow into the toes and cause infection.
  • Sports injuries: Podiatrists can help diagnose and treat common sports injuries, including ankle and foot sprains, tendinitis and Achilles tendon ruptures.

Can podiatrists perform surgery on the foot and ankle?

Yes. Depending on their certifications, state license, or credentials at a hospital, podiatrists can perform surgery on the bones, ligaments, tendons and joints of the foot and ankle. Common procedures they may perform include bunion correction, excision of a neuroma, ankle ligament reconstruction, hammertoe reconstruction, tarsal tunnel release, plantar fascia release to name a few.

When should I go to a podiatrist?

If you are experiencing acute or chronic foot and ankle ailments speak with your doctor to determine when it makes sense to visit a podiatrist for further specialty care.  You may also use iTriage to search our wide database of medical providers to find a podiatrist in your area.

Dr. Rucker suggests that people take preventive steps in their foot care by visiting a podiatrist even if nothing is wrong, especially those with chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes) that predispose them to foot and ankle conditions: “Before pain occurs in the foot, one should have a foot and footwear wellness examination to become knowledgeable about their foot structure. That way, they can understand and be aware of signs and symptoms of conditions affecting the foot, as well as take steps to avoid injury.”

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are nearly 18,000 podiatrists practicing in the United States. To find a podiatrist near you, download the free healthcare app iTriage!

When do you go to the podiatrist? Let us know in the comments below!

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