What is Podiatry?

Dorothy Distefano

Podiatry is the specific branch of medicine that deals with diagnosis and treatment of conditions of the foot and ankle. This specialty is generally practiced by Doctors of Podiatric Medicine, or podiatrists. A podiatrist may treat a myriad of issues from the relatively minor, such as corns, to major conditions and injuries, like fractures.

Podiatrists often fit custom shoe insoles.
Podiatrists often fit custom shoe insoles.

Podiatry practices may be solo, with only one doctor, or they may function within a medical group. Some podiatrists work in combination with groups of doctors in related specialty areas. For example, a podiatrist may work in conjunction with an orthopedic surgeon or in a multi-specialty practice for the treatment of the specific podiatry needs of diabetic patients.

The foot and ankle are the primary focus of podiatry.
The foot and ankle are the primary focus of podiatry.

In the United States, each state has determined the limits of podiatric medicine. While many restrict podiatry treatment to conditions of the foot and ankle, some allow surgeries and treatments of the leg as well. Practices may include medical, surgical, or a combination of services.

Podiatry can include the treatment of bunions.
Podiatry can include the treatment of bunions.

Commonly, minor conditions that may require a podiatric consultation include corns and calluses. These are both characterized by thick, hard skin that may be dry and flaky. A podiatrist may remove such excessive tissue, especially if an infection or persistent ulceration is present. Patient education is generally provided to assist in prevention of further tissue injury.

Many podiatry clinics offer second opinions for patients who want additional consultation before developing a treatment plan.
Many podiatry clinics offer second opinions for patients who want additional consultation before developing a treatment plan.

Patients may seek a podiatrist’s advice for dealing with athlete’s foot or fungal nail infections. Both of these conditions are caused by similar strains of fungi. Treatments may be topical or oral antifungal drugs, and may take several months to completely eradicate the infection.

A podiatrist will likely see a lot of patients that suffer from plantar fasciitis.
A podiatrist will likely see a lot of patients that suffer from plantar fasciitis.

Bunions, or bony protrusions at the base of the big toe, may be more difficult to treat. A bunion often causes the big toe to angle inward towards the second toe, a condition referred to as hallux valgus, or hammer toe. These conditions, if excessively painful, may require intervention by a podiatrist. Treatments can include changes in footwear, exercises, corticosteroid injections, or surgery.

Another condition that may be treated in a podiatry practice is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation and irritation of the thick tissue that extends around the heel. Frequently accompanied by severe heel pain, this condition may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, orthotic shoe inserts, or surgery. A podiatrist may perform several tests to confirm the diagnosis and try multiple treatments to assist the patient with relief of symptoms.

Any injury to the foot or ankle may also be evaluated by a podiatry provider. Diagnostic imaging may be used to determine the extent of the injury and treatment. Casting, splinting, or other treatment may be provided in such cases.

In the United States, the laws regarding podiatric medicine often differ from state to state.
In the United States, the laws regarding podiatric medicine often differ from state to state.

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