A podiatrist is a foot doctor who practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty. In some countries the foot doctor is known as a chiropodist or podologist.
Specialized foot care is a profession that dates back to ancient Egypt, seen through tomb carvings. Tradition links Hippocrates' development of the scalpel as a consequence of his desire to remove corns and calluses from his patients' feet. Throughout history kings and presidents alike have used the services of foot doctors to literally keep them up and working on their feet. Some have viewed podiatrists as not being 'real' doctors because they treat seemingly minor ailments like bunions. In truth, however, foot care is recognized around the world as an essential part of overall good health.
The feet-related duties of a podiatrist include performing a thorough assessment exam, and listening to patient concerns regarding their feet and lower legs. A diagnosis is made by performing a physical exam, by using laboratory tests such as blood tests or urinalysis, with x-rays, and through other methods. The podiatrist treats common foot troubles such as bunions, as well as complex foot and ankle surgeries such as the removal of bone spurs. They also prescribe medications and provide follow-up care instructions and advice. Podiatrists will also prescribe medical devices such as orthotics and arch supports in order to improve mobility and treat lower leg ailments and pain.
Some common foot and lower leg ailments treated by a podiatrist:
Some important characteristics needed to be a foot doctor:
Foot deformities, either birth defects like clubfoot, or problems caused by neglect or damage, are also treated by a foot doctor, along with any feet issues causing abnormal posture or gait. Many times larger health problems, such as arthritis or diabetes, are often diagnosed through symptoms first seen in the feet. Diabetic neuropathy is a condition in which cuts or sores on the feet are not felt and can become infected or muscle damage occurs. In these cases the podiatrist will refer patients to other physicians or specialists.
There are a number of subspecialties in the field of podiatry. Podiatric sports medicine treats foot and ankle injuries commonly occurring among athletes. Pediatric care podiatrists treat children, including those with congenital foot defects. Advanced surgical podiatrists focus on advanced surgical techniques, including foot and ankle reconstruction after injury. There are also specialties in geriatrics, dermatology, orthopedics, vascular medicine, diabetes and other areas.
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Most podiatrists are self-employed in general practice and can set their own work hours. Others work as part of group practice in a clinic or in a hospital. For patient convenience some extended hours may be involved, but standard office hours are generally followed. Podiatrists can work in health maintenance organizations, for the government or the military, and at universities or academic science and research centers.
Part of the job involves standing while conducting examinations, but there is also a fair amount of desk work and paperwork to be completed. If a podiatrist owns his or her own practice, a number of business-related activities are also required, including hiring employees, managing inventory, and dealing with medical insurance providers. Many opportunities exist for those interested in relocating, since podiatry is a recognized profession in many countries around the world.