What Does a Podiatrist Do?

Podiatrists are medical specialists who help with problems that affect your feet or lower legs. They can treat injuries as well as ongoing health issues like diabetes.

Are They Doctors?

Podiatrists are doctors, but they don't go to medical school. They have their own schools and professional associations. They also have "DPM" (doctor of podiatric medicine) after their names instead of "MD" (medical doctor).

Podiatrists can do surgery, reset broken bones, prescribe drugs, and order lab tests or X-rays. They often work closely with other specialists when a problem affects your feet or lower legs. In the United States, podiatrists are licensed and regulated by state governments. 

Education and Training

In college, students who want to be podiatrists take biology, chemistry, and physics along with other science classes to get ready for podiatry school. Most get a bachelor's degree in biology or a similar field of science.

Then they go to podiatry school for 4 years. They study how bones, nerves, and muscles work together to help you move around. They also study the illnesses and injuries that can affect your feet. That includes how to diagnose them and treat them and how to fix the feet with surgery if needed.

Nine podiatry schools are accredited by the American Podiatric Medical Association in the U.S.

Once students graduate from podiatry school, they work in a hospital for 3 years. This is called a residency, and they put what they've learned to use. They also work with doctors in other fields, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, and specialists in infectious diseases.

After the residency, they can get advanced certifications in surgery on feet and ankles.

Podiatry in Practice

Podiatrists treat people of any age for many reasons. Some of those include: 

  • Fractures or sprains: Podiatrists regularly treat these common injuries when they happen in a foot or ankle. They also work in sports medicine, treating foot problems athletes have and recommending ways to avoid them.
     
  • Bunions, hammertoes, or heel spurs: These are problems with the bones in your feet. A bunion happens when the joint at the base of your big toe gets bigger for some reason or knocked out of place. That makes the toe bend toward the others. A hammertoe is one that doesn't bend the right way. A heel spur is a buildup of calcium at the bottom of your heel bone.
     
  • Nail disorders: These include issues like an infection in your nail caused by a fungus or an ingrown toenail. That's when a corner or side of a nail grows into your toe instead of straight out.
     
  • Diabetes: This is a condition in which your body either doesn't make a hormone called insulin or doesn't use it the way it should. Insulin helps you digest sugars. Diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet or legs, and you might have trouble getting enough blood to your feet.

    Diabetes can cause serious complications. More than 65,000 people a year need to have a foot amputated -- removed by a doctor -- because of diabetes. A podiatrist can help prevent that. If you have diabetes, make sure to get any sore or callus on your feet checked out.
     
  • Arthritis: This is caused by inflammation, swelling, and wear and tear on your joints. Each foot has 33 joints. A podiatrist might recommend physical therapy, drugs, or special shoes or inserts to help with your arthritis. Surgery also might be an option if other treatments don't work well for you.
     
  • Growing pains: If your child's feet are pointing inward or look flat or his toes don't line up right, a podiatrist might be able to help. She might recommend exercises, insoles, or braces. Or she might possibly recommend surgery to fix the problem. 

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on April 30, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Council on Podiatric Medical Education.

American Podiatric Medical Association.

New York State Podiatric Medical Association: "What is a podiatrist?"

Federation of Podiatric Medical Boards: "Member Boards Info."

Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine: "Admissions requirements."

Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine: "Academic Requirements."

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine.

Columbia St. Mary's Hospitals: "Podiatric Medicine and Surgery."

American Board of Podiatric Medicine: "Steps to Certification."

American Diabetes Association: "Your Health Care Team."

U.S. Centers for Disease Control: "What Podiatrists Would Like Team Members to Know About Foot Health and Diabetes."

Clinics in Podiatric Medicine and Surgery: "The podiatrist as a member of the sports medicine team."

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