What is a podiatrist?
The medical sub-specialty of podiatry has lived in obscurity since its inception in the early 20th century. Today on rare occasions it may still be confused with “like” sounding specialties. However the mystery behind podiatry lies in what a podiatrist does.
Originally termed “chiropody”, podiatry has transformed its focus from a pre-dominantly geriatric population dealing with corns, calluses and fungal toenails to encompass a wide variety of pathologies.
The popularity of running in the mid-1900s resulted in new complications affecting knees, hips and backs. These over-use injuries resulted in higher rates of injections, increased reliance on oral anti-inflammatories and surgery.
Through the desire to avoid these more aggressive complications, podiatry found a niche and became ingrained in the world of sports medicine. Addressing biomechanical imbalances and abnormal gait resulted in the development of orthotics. Orthotics, both custom and over the counter, decreased foot, knee and hip pain by decreasing the amount of stress and pressure brought on by prolonged physical activity.
Building on these developments, podiatry continued to carve its own niche and expand its scope of practice eventually becoming a surgical specialty that addressed foot deformities that did not respond to conservative treatments; deformities such as bunions, hammertoes, flat feet, heel spurs and many more.
Advances in medicine during the turn of the century saw the emergence of the epidemic, Diabetes Mellitus. This epidemic has plagued westernized countries and resulted in complications involving the eyes, kidneys and the feet. Today diabetic foot infections are one of the leading causes of hospitalizations and the leading cause of loss of limb. As a specialty, podiatrists have unanimously risen to the occasion to become wound care and limb salvage specialists, decreasing the number of complete limb loss.
The current generation of podiatrists is subject to intensive surgical and medical training requiring a minimum of 4 years of graduate medical education and 3-4 years of post-graduate residency training. While not universal the scope of podiatry encompasses all structures below the knee both medically and surgically.
Podiatry as a medical specialty has evolved to encompass preventative care, sports medicine, foot surgery, wound care, limb salvage and reconstructive ankle surgery in the short span of a century. It is no wonder that “what a podiatrist does?” is still somewhat a mystery as training has drastically changed in such a short amount of time.