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A podiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of your ankles and feet. A complicated structure of bones, muscles and tough tissues, the human foot requires tender care when something goes wrong. Your foot contains 26 separate bones — fully 25 percent of the bones in the human body. Your foot also has 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Somehow, they all work together to keep you mobile.
So you shouldn’t be surprised that a podiatrist has to spend a long time studying such a complex body part. While you can discuss your foot pain with your family doctor, if the problem appears serious, any general practitioner will refer you to a qualified podiatrist for specialized treatment.
Conditions Podiatrists Treat
As a foot and ankle specialist, your local Manhattan podiatrist can treat a broad range of conditions — and there are a broad range of maladies and illnesses that your feet may suffer from. These conditions include skin diseases, structural defects, injuries, normal wear and tear, and problems with your toenails. Although extensive, the list below shouldn’t be considered complete:
- Aching feet and legs
- Arch or ankle pain
- Athlete’s foot, fungal toenails or fungus
- Cracked heels
- Bursitis, which is inflammation of the bursa sacs cushioning the joint of your big toe
- Blisters, calluses, bunions, corns, hammertoes or bone spurs
- High arches or flat feet
- In-toe (pigeon toe) or out-toe gait
- Sports injuries, running injuries, shin pain or shin splints
- Posterior tibial tendonitis, which is inflammation or a tear of your tendon, condition common to runners
- Diabetes, a serious medical condition stemming from excessive glucose in your blood; it can lead to poor circulation and nerve damage in your feet
- Osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative condition of your bones due to normal wear and tear
- Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disease often affecting your feet
- Gout, which is a buildup of uric acid crystals in your joints, most commonly in your big toe
- Neuromas, or pinched nerves
- Sciatica, which is lower back pain caused by a pinched nerve
- Metatarsalgia, pain on the ball of your foot
- Osgood Schlatter’s Disease, which is knee pain that occurs in active children
- Sever’s Disease, a painful heel bone disorder common to children during a growth spurt
- Plantar fasciitis, which is heel pain due to the inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot between your heel and toes
- Plantar fasciosis, heel pain known as jogger’s heel
When to See a Podiatrist
Foot and ankle conditions can be caused by a wide variety of issues, so you can benefit from a consultation with a podiatrist if you’re feeling pain. These trained medical professionals are well acquainted with foot problems and can diagnose your ailment fairly quickly. They’re experts at applying the proper treatment, whether you’ve suffered from a sudden injury or are suffering from a chronic condition.
Even if you aren’t feeling pain, a podiatrist can help you. If you’re starting to engage in a new activity — such as running, for example — it might be a good idea for you to consult a podiatrist to assess your feet, legs and body. The podiatrist might be able to identify any possible problems that may arise and even recommend a suitable set of shoes for you to wear during your activity.
Side Effects from Other Conditions
If you’re currently experiencing swelling, redness or stiffness in your feet or ankles, it may be a symptom of arthritis. Arthritis can be a debilitating condition that eventually leads to the inability to walk. Podiatrists can suggest and apply treatments to improve the way your joint functions, which can keep you active.
A doctor of internal medicine may treat you for diabetes, but you should also consider annual visits to a podiatrist. Diabetes can cause your feet to experience dry skin, infections, and nerve damage. Care by a podiatrist can reduce your risk of diabetes-induced foot amputation by 50 percent.
If you are concerned that you may have incurred a sprain or broken bone in your foot or ankle, a visit to a podiatrist is an excellent idea. If you’re experiencing swelling or trouble walking, your podiatrist can implement the proper treatment to get you back to your normal level of mobility.
Podiatry Training and Education
The initial stages of podiatry training are similar to that of an internist or general practitioner. The doctor must first complete a four-year undergraduate degree. After graduation, a podiatrist has to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to apply to one of the nationally accredited doctoral programs in podiatry (DPM). These programs last four years, and despite the intense focus on feet, they still provide a solid education in general medicine similar to other medical colleges.
The programs for podiatry include anatomy, pharmacology, physiology, medical ethics and legal issues. Besides classroom study, DPM programs involve patient interaction, so students have an opportunity to practice what they’re learning. After graduation, podiatrists need supervised training in the form of a three-year residency program with a seasoned professional in the field. As a resident, the podiatrist becomes intimately familiar with cutting-edge medical techniques used in podiatry.
If further specialization is still required after their residency program, a podiatrist may decide to attend one of the fellowships approved by the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. These programs may last one or two years, and they expose qualified podiatrists to more complex procedures and surgeries than during the standard residency.
After all of this supervised training and experience, a podiatrist must still pass a state examination to get a medical license for the privilege of practicing medicine. Podiatrists may also choose to become board certified by either of the two organizations recognized by the American Podiatric Medical Association:
- The American Board of Podiatric Surgery focuses on the surgical and medical techniques necessary to treat deformities, injuries and diseases of ankles and feet.
- The American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine is concerned with the continuous treatment and long-term care of foot conditions, including rehabilitation and behavioral sciences.
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