Podiatry is the medical field that diagnoses and treats conditions of the feet. Our feet contain 52 bones each, accounting for over 25% of the bones in the body. Our feet also support our entire bodies and maintain the body’s balance whenever we’re standing, so the feet can experience a lot of wear and tear over the years, especially in active individuals. Podiatrists are specialists trained to both prevent and combat a wide range of foot problems.
You should see a podiatrist for any foot-related issues ranging from unexplained foot pain to localized conditions such as bunions or warts. Podiatrists are able to help patients who have any foot condition, including those that make the patient feel self-conscious about the appearance of their feet. Many podiatrists are experienced foot and ankle surgeons and/or physical therapists who work with patients that have foot and ankle injuries. Regardless of your foot problem and its cause, a podiatrist can diagnose the condition and refer you to another specialist if s/he is unable to treat the condition themselves.
Here are a range of examples of foot-related problems commonly treated by podiatrists:
- Ankle Injuries: Ankle injuries are commonly caused by twisting or rolling an ankle to the inside or outside. Ankle injuries to the ligaments, tendons, bones, and nerves can be moderate to severe and require the injured tissue to be retrained back into its pre-injury state. If left to heal on its own, the injured tissue can be trained into the wrong position, permanently affecting balance and the entire rest of the body, especially the back and spine.
- Athlete’s Foot: Athlete’s foot is a common fungus affecting the dermis of the feet and toes. Athlete’s foot is easily spread in locker rooms, pools, and other public places where bare feet abound. Chronic athlete’s foot is a treatable condition, but its symptoms can be similar to those caused by ringworm, another fungus of the skin. Patients who suspect they have athlete’s foot should see a podiatrist to both treat and prevent the spread of this common condition, in addition to either ruling out or treating the more serious condition of ringworm.
- Bone Spurs: A bone spur is an outgrowth of bone or cartilage that’s common on the feet, heals, and ankles. Larger bone spurs can be painful and affect a person’s ability to walk or wear shoes comfortably and can additionally cause corns and calluses to form on the skin. Bone spurs must often be surgically removed or shaved down, requiring the skills of a qualified surgical podiatrist.
- Bunions: Bunions are hard, boney growths on the toes, most commonly found on the outside of the big toe. Small bunions are usually painless and harmless, but as they grow they rub against footwear, causing pain and swelling that affect a person’s ability to walk normally and wear shoes. As bunion patients shift their weight to take stress off the affected foot, their balance and foot structure can be permanently damaged, so it’s important to see a podiatrist about removing bunions as soon as they become noticeable.
- Corns and Calluses: Corns and calluses are both growths of hardened skin. Corns are usually found on the toes and calluses usually occur on the bottom of the foot or heel. While corns and calluses affect the skin, they are actually signs of an underlying problem that will eventually require treatment. A podiatrist can help prevent more serious foot issues when corns and calluses are treated in their earlier stages.
- Flat Feet: Foot pain and calluses are two common signs of flat feet, a condition affecting about 20% of Americans. Flat footed people usually suffer from a loose Achilles tendon, which can be surgically treated. Another possible option is wearing prescription foot beds in the shoes.
- Hammertoes: People with foot problems such as flat feet or high arches are predisposed to develop hammertoes, a condition that causes the toes to permanently curl under toward the bottom of the foot. Addressing these other problems will prevent hammertoes, while ignoring them will eventually lead to major foot pain and the inability to wear shoes.
- Shin Splints: Shin splints are a very common condition in athletes, especially after a prolonged period of inactivity due to injury. Shin splints begin in the feet, usually when a person is walking or running off-balance. While the condition is not permanent or serious, it can be extremely painful and affect a person’s ability to walk, run, or participate in sports. A podiatrist or physical therapist can help combat shin splints by helping patients improve their posture and balance.
- Warts: Plantar warts are common and may or may not cause pain, but they should be treated because they are caused by the HPV virus that’s easily spread in locker rooms and other public places where people go barefoot. Plantar warts on the bottom of the foot may not be painful but can still affect a person’s balance by causing them to compensate for the extra growth. Warts can be easily removed by a podiatrist.
- General Foot Pain: Foot pain can be caused by a wide range of conditions that include everything from poor footwear to pregnancy and medical conditions such as diabetes. Anyone with foot pain should seek the professional evaluation of a podiatrist to both combat the pain and prevent or treat a more serious underlying condition.