What is a Foot and Ankle Specialist?

Nat Robinson

A foot and ankle specialist is a doctor who concentrates on maintaining the health of and treating problems of the foot and ankle. Doctors who specialize in these disorders are called podiatrists. When a general healthcare physician is unable to provide a solution for continuing problems of the foot and ankle, many people seek a specialist, such as a podiatrist, for advanced treatment.

This diagram shows some common problems with the Achilles tendon.
This diagram shows some common problems with the Achilles tendon.

The study of podiatry involves a concentration on disorders affecting the lower portion of the leg, the ankle, and the foot. A podiatrist obtains extra years of education in order to properly diagnose and provide methods of treatment for such disorders. Foot and ankle specialists will need to attend graduate school after receiving an undergraduate degree to obtain a doctorate in this field of study. Additionally, national and regional exams will typically be required for the specialist to become licensed to practice medicine. After completing these educational requirements, a foot and ankle specialist may become a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) and may then be referred as a podiatrist.

A person with a broken ankle.
A person with a broken ankle.

Individuals may consult with a foot and ankle specialist if a visit to a general healthcare provider failed to solve problems of the ankle or foot. A specialist may be more suitable in diagnosing and treating such problems due to the extended training received in medical school. Some common reasons for seeking treatment from a specialist include problems such as plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and Achilles tendon injuries. Other typical reasons for a visit may include sprains and fractures of the ankle.

Podiatrists focus on care for the lower leg, ankle and feet.
Podiatrists focus on care for the lower leg, ankle and feet.

When foot problems hamper or prevent a person's normal daily activities, it may be time to see a foot doctor. Foot pain is one of the most common reasons for seeking treatment with a foot and ankle specialist. Plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of the band of tissue running across the bottom of the foot, is a type of heel injury that can cause a great deal of foot pain. Heel spurs, which are bony growths that extend from the heel bone, can also cause pain.

A foot and ankle specialist may be consulted if a foot or ankle problem cannot be corrected by a more general doctor.
A foot and ankle specialist may be consulted if a foot or ankle problem cannot be corrected by a more general doctor.

Other common reasons for visiting a specialist are sprains and fractures of the ankle. Ankle fractures and sprains are very common and can happen in a variety of ways. Turning over the ankle, a trip, or a fall may lead to a sprain. A fracture may be caused by the same incidences or direct trauma to the ankle. Any of these injuries can cause a great deal of ankle pain.

Sprains and strains are common causes of ankle pain.
Sprains and strains are common causes of ankle pain.

Problems of the ankle and foot that are severe and fail to heal under the guidance of a general physician may need to be treated by a foot and ankle specialist. Relief for common problems may first be attempted through basic remedies such as rest, compression, and elevation. If these measures fail, a specialist should be consulted immediately for further evaluation as more advanced methods of treatment may be needed.

A person with a fractured ankle may require the services of a foot and ankle specialist.
A person with a fractured ankle may require the services of a foot and ankle specialist.
A good foot and ankle specialist should understand a patient's lifestyle, and how his injury affects it.
A good foot and ankle specialist should understand a patient's lifestyle, and how his injury affects it.
Most foot and ankle specialists are board certified by at least one professional medical organization.
Most foot and ankle specialists are board certified by at least one professional medical organization.

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Discussion Comments

Ocelot60

@spotiche5- I think you should start with a visit to your doctor so he or she can give you an idea what the problem is with your ankle and how serious it is. It may be something that your doctor can handle, so there would be no need to see a podiatrist.

On the other hand, if it turns out that your ankle pain is an indication of a more serious problem, your doctor can easily refer you to a foot and ankle specialist. You probably will need a referral from your doctor anyhow because of requirements by your insurance, so this is the best plan of action to get to the cause of your ankle pain.

Spotiche5

I have been having some ankle pain which I think is the result of an old sport injury. Is it all right to start seeking treatment by seeing my regular doctor, or should I see a podiatrist for this problem? I might not be a serious issue, so I'm hesitant to go to another doctor. However, I want to deal with the problem quickly with the best treatment option available so it doesn't progress and get worse.

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