How to Choose a Foot Health Professional
Following is a list of the types of practitioners who care for the feet and manage foot problems and their key areas of expertise:
- Podiatrist (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, or DPM) – A doctor who diagnoses, treats and helps prevent foot diseases and conditions. May also provide toenail care and maintenance and works with people with diabetes and other medical conditions who have foot issues. May perform surgery and often prescribes special footwear.
- Orthopaedic Surgeon (Orthopedist, Orthopaedic Physician) – A medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and correcting issues with the musculoskeletal system. Corrective measures may involve surgery. Many specialize in the foot and ankle.
- General Practitioner, Family Physician or Primary Care Physician – A medical doctor who diagnoses and treats a variety of medical problems in patients of all ages. May not have specialized knowledge of the feet, but can make referrals to an appropriate foot specialist.
- Foot Care Nurse – A registered or certified nurse who specializes in the care of the feet, and often provides general foot care, nail care and basic diabetic foot care.
- Certified Pedorthist (C.Ped) - Trained in the manufacturing, fitting and modification of foot appliances and footwear. Does not diagnose, but often takes prescriptions or recommendations from medical practitioners to develop footwear solutions for specific problems.
- Certified Orthotist (CO) – Specializes in providing mechanical devices to support or supplement weakened or abnormal joints or limbs.
- Certified Prosthetist (CP) – Specializes in the replacement of missing limbs and other body structures with manufactured substitutes.
- Certified Prosthetist/Orthotist (CPO) – Combines the two disciplines of the orthotist and prosthetist.
- Rehabilitation Physician (also called “physiatrist”) - A medical doctor who specializes in treating injuries or illnesses that affect how people move, with particular expertise related to the nerves, muscles, and bones. A rehabilitation physician is a medical doctor who has completed training in the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). Specifically, a rehabilitation physician diagnoses and treats pain; helps restore maximum function lost through injury, illness or disabling conditions; and provides non-surgical treatments. A rehabilitation physician can also treat disabilities resulting from disease or injury, focusing on the development of a comprehensive program that does not include surgery for rehabilitation after disease or injury. Typically a rehabilitation physician focuses on treating the whole person, not just the specific problem area.
Tips for choosing the right foot health practitioner:
- If you have unidentified foot pain, or foot pain that you suspect is coming from a particular location, see a podiatrist or orthopaedic surgeon, especially if the pain is particularly severe or persistent. You may have to get a referral from your primary care physician.
- If your feet have patches of red, or streaks of redness and swelling, see your doctor and/or a podiatrist.
- If you have an ingrown toenail, especially if the area around the toenail is swollen and appears to be infected, see a podiatrist or a foot care nurse.
- If you have any severe trauma to the foot due to a fall or other accident, and you suspect you may have a broken bone, strain or sprain, see an orthopaedic surgeon. If the injury is severe, go to a hospital emergency room.
- If you get a cut, laceration or puncture wound in your foot, see your doctor. If the injury is severe, go to a hospital emergency room.
- If you have been given a prescription for special accommodative or corrective footwear—for example, inserts or orthotics—by a podiatrist, orthopaedic surgeon or physician, see a certified pedorthist, orthotist or prosthetist.
- If you need gait analysis, help with proper sizing, fitting and selection of footwear—including activity-specific shoes and padded socks--or custom modifications to inserts/orthotics or shoes, see a podiatrist, pedorthist, or orthotist.
- If you have an amputation and need assistance choosing, fitting or adjusting a prosthesis, see a prosthetist or an orthotist/prosthetist.
- If you have had an amputation and need assistance in re-developing a walking gait (either with or without a prosthetic limb), if you have had surgery and need to rehabilitate a foot injury, or if you have persistent pain and physical limitations related to a foot or leg condition or injury, see a rehabilitation physician.
- If you have diabetes, and especially if you have neuropathy (loss of sensation) in your feet, see a podiatrist regularly in addition to your regular medical professionals. Team or collaborative care has proven to be a highly effective approach for managing diabetes.
- If you’re not sure which type of foot health practitioner to consult, talk to your doctor and get a recommendation or referral.