Podiatrists, or chiropodists as they are also known, are health care professionals who care for human feet comprehensively. They keep feet in a healthy state and diagnose and treat injuries to, and abnormalities of, feet.
Podiatrists are concerned with both the prevention and the cure of foot disorders. If a patient has a problem, a meticulous overview of the problem is first required before treatment can begin. For this they use medical histories and laboratory test results. After a thorough physical examination which may include X-rays, the podiatrist analyses and interprets all the relevant information and then decides on an appropriate course of treatment. These treatments may include the administering of medicine, the prescription of exercises or special shoes and other aids. They also treat bone, muscle and joint disorders affecting the feet and ankles. Mechanical treatment methods may be used, such as whirlpool or paraffin baths, and electrical methods, such as short wave and low voltage current.
Sometimes podiatrists design special devices to help their patient overcome foot problems. For example, a plaster cast of the foot can be made and an insole or orthotic made of plastics or other artificial material can be manufactured. Podiatrists surgically treat conditions such as ingrown nails, tumours, shortened tendons, bunions, cysts and abscesses.
The duties of podiatrists also include ordinary foot care, for example, the cutting of toenails and the removal of calluses and corns, especially for the aged and infirm.
Podiatrists also treat abnormal skin conditions of the foot, for example, fungal infections. Their medical background and comprehensive knowledge of the foot also enables them to diagnose diseases which initially manifest themselves in the patient’s limbs and feet. They will refer patients to physicians when symptoms indicative of systemic disorders, such as arthritis or diabetes, are observed in the feet and legs. Doctors often refer patients with conditions such as knock-knees, inwardly turned feet, uneven tread or sports injuries to podiatrists.
Podiatrists need to perform administrative duties such as hiring employees, ordering supplies and keeping records. They educate the public about the benefits of foot care through techniques such as speaking engagements, advertising etc.
Podiatrists are legally restricted in the extent to which they may prescribe medicine. They are able, however, to use local anaesthesia for performing minor surgery such as the removal of a toenail. Involvement in Primary Health Care Education is also becoming part of podiatrists’ community involvement.