What Is a Podiatrist?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 08, 2023
3 min read

A podiatrist -- officially known as a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) — is trained to treat issues in the foot, ankle, and lower leg. They can help your limb work the way it should, reduce pain, and speed healing after an injury or surgery. 

Podiatrists treat problems with a patient’s foot or lower leg. They can set fractures, write prescriptions, recommend physical therapy, and do surgery as needed. They may assist other doctors in treating a health issue. 

Podiatrists may also:

  • Diagnose foot problems like skin and nail diseases, congenital (at-birth) deformities, tumors, and ulcers
  • Treat conditions like corns, arch problems, heel spurs, shortened tendons, bone disorders, and cysts
  • Make flexible casts to hold foot and ankle injuries like sprains or fractures steady
  • Talk with patients about preventive foot care
  • Refer patients to other doctors when they feel that symptoms of the foot are related to different disorders in other body systems

Podiatrists can choose to use their skills in a specific subset of medicine, such as: 

Sports medicine. Podiatrists who focus on sports medicine help people who get hurt playing sports or taking part in other physical activities.

Pediatrics. Some podiatrists focus on younger patients. If your child complains about pain in their foot or legs, their primary care doctor may recommend that you take them to a pediatric podiatrist. Common issues treated by pediatric podiatrists include:

  • Ingrown toenails
  • Plantar warts (lumps of skin on the bottom of your feet)
  • Tinea pedis (athlete's foot)
  • Crossover toes (one toe threatening to cross over the big toe)
  • Bunions 
  • Flat feet
  • Intoed gait (turned-in toes)
  • Growth plate injuries in the ankle and foot

Radiology. Podiactric Radiologists specialize in using imaging tests and equipment to help in diagnosing injuries, diseases, and illnesses of the lower limbs. They use methods like:

Pediatric podiatric radiologists interpret the results of imaging tests and diagnose your condition.  

Diabetic foot care. Diabetes often causes damage to different parts of your body, including your feet. In severe cases, your doctor may need to cut off (amputate) toes, other parts of your foot, or even an entire lower leg. But podiatrists can help people with diabetes keep their feet healthy and possibly prevent this damage.

A podiatrist’s education doesn’t include a traditional medical school. They typically take part in a 4-year program at a podiatric medical school. After graduation, they do a residency that meets the requirements of their state. Residency offers experiences in different medical specialties. Graduates of podiatric medicine must complete a podiatric medicine and surgery residency (PMSR). Podiatrists must have a minimum of 2 years of residency to become board certified. 

To become licensed, podiatrists must graduate from one of the nine accredited (approved) podiatric schools and colleges and pass the National Board Exams. Podiatrists can also choose to earn certification in specialty areas like orthopedics, primary care, or surgery.  

Our feet act as shock absorbers for all the things we do every day. You may want to visit a podiatrist if you notice any pain or discomfort in or around your feet and ankles.

Podiatrists typically treat patients of all ages and backgrounds. They often see people who have conditions such as:

You might also see a podiatrist if you’re planning to ramp up your physical activity. They can check that your legs and feet can handle the extra stress. 

A podiatrist may be able to treat issues through:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing the problem area)
  • Steroid injections
  • Surgery