Types of Disorders Podiatrists Treat

Doctor looking at a patients foot
A Podiatrist Examining the Feet. VOISIN / Getty Images

Podiatry is the treatment of disorders of the foot and ankle. It is the branch of medicine that deals almost exclusively with the foot and ankle. Podiatry includes the treatment of minor ailments, such as ingrown toenails, but can also include surgeries to improve chronic conditions such as bunions or foot pain. 

What Is a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist is a doctor of podiatric medicine, the specialty of treating the foot and ankle. While podiatrists are highly trained and have extensive education in the anatomy and physiology of the entire body, they are only able to treat issues pertaining to the feet and ankles. Their license does not allow them to provide other types of unrelated care.

How Are Podiatrists Trained?

While a podiatrist does undergo a four-year post-graduate training program similar to medical school, podiatrists (DPM) differ from the M.D. and D.O. trained physicians. Physicians who complete medical school is then able to pursue the specialty of their choice in residency while graduates of podiatry school are able to pursue a career in the care of feet and ankles exclusively.

Podiatrists, who are doctors but not physicians, receive extensive training in the anatomy and physiology of the human body, but they are specifically trained to treat diseases and problems with the feet and ankles, and cannot pursue a residency in other areas of medicine despite their extensive education in all of the systems of the human body.

Depending on the nature of their residency training, which is typically three years in length, podiatrists can perform a wide variety of treatments and surgeries on the foot and ankle.

Treatments provided by podiatrists range from non-invasive shoe inserts and orthotics to the treatment of ingrown toenails, preventative diabetic foot care, and surgical procedures.

Podiatrists often specialize. One may specialize in care that can be provided in the office setting, while another may prefer surgical medicine. Some may specialize in the non-invasive treatment of foot pain such as the creation of custom orthotics and braces while another may treat primarily diabetic patients and their related foot issues. 

Seeing a Physician or Podiatrist

There is some overlap between physicians who are surgeons and podiatrists who perform surgery, particularly orthopedic surgeons. When looking for someone to perform a procedure on your feet, look for the individual who has the best training and outcomes performing the very procedure that you need. The person may be a podiatrist, or they may be a physician, but regardless of the type of training that they received, they should be the best person available to perform your procedure.

Look for an individual who performs the procedure that you need on a regular basis who also has very happy patients. Don't assume a physician or a podiatrist is the best choice based solely on the initials behind their name without doing your research.

A Word From Verywell

A podiatrist specializes in the treatment of the foot and ankle. Some orthopedic surgeons also specialize in the feet and ankles. Selecting the right doctor is often less about podiatrist versus physician and more about finding the provider who is best acquainted with the procedure that you need. Typically, you would want to have a provider who performs the procedure frequently and has excellent outcomes.

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