Most of us will walk an incredible distance over our lifetime, and it’s likely we’ll run into some problems with our feet and ankles. With a lot of living to do, we need to care and support the things that, well, support us.
While your GP is a good place to start when your feet start to ache, tingle or malfunction, a visit to the podiatrist might also be in order. Podiatrists are trained to treat issues in the ankle and foot and can help with minor issues that may be causing serious pain, to more complicated medical situations that need prolonged management.
So, when should you see a podiatrist?
Podiatrist vs orthopaedic surgeon
First you need to decide if it’s an issue that a podiatrist can treat or if it’s an issue for an orthopaedic surgeon.
As mentioned, podiatrists, look after the feet and ankles, and typically understand biomechanics as well. They usually adopt a more conservative approach to treatment, with surgery being a final measure.
Orthopaedic surgeons are trained to treat the entire musculoskeletal system, with some practising in specialties like feet and ankles, hands or knees. Orthopaedic surgeons can treat an underlying problem in your foot, with an understanding of how your foot interacts with the rest of your body.
It’s recommended you see a highly qualified orthopaedic surgeon for any surgical intervention after first consulting a podiatrist or your GP.
Cause for concern
While you can visit a podiatrist for issues like serious ingrown toenails, and bunions, they are trained to treat and manage more impeding issues as well. Problems like athletes foot, heel pain, flat feet, and gout can be effectively treated by a podiatrist. Podiatrists can also help provide orthotic insoles for shoes which can help relieve heel pain, rectify flat feet, or provide a more comfortable walk.
Issues with your feet can arise as a side-effect of diseases like diabetes. As nerves can become damaged in the legs and feet through neuropathy, diabetes sufferers can experience reduced-sensation and feeling in their feet. This can have flow-on effects like cuts or blisters developing into ulcers. Diabetes patients are often unaware their feet are struggling and issues can go unnoticed – and before long become serious.
As with any medical issue, it’s always best to seek out specialist advice and treatment from health care professionals. In this case, podiatrists are the feet and ankle experts. Their medical training and education, as well as clinical experience, has focused on the body’s lower extremities. There would be little in the feet and ankles that podiatrists don’t know about.
Editor’s note: A podiatrist performing surgery must be registered with the Australasian College of Podiatric Surgeons. As there is no Medicare item number for a podiatric surgeon’s services, most health funds do not pay benefits under their hospital cover for podiatric surgery. Treatment by an orthopaedic surgeon does attract a Medicare benefit, and depending on the level of hospital cover, private medical and hospital benefits.