If our teeth ache, most of us will head quickly to the dentist for treatment. But if your feet hurt, do you just chalk up the pain as a discomfort of modern life? Sadly, most of us do. Most Americans say they have foot pain at least some of the time, and more of us have pain in our feet than in any other part of our bodies we consider vital to health, such as skin, teeth, or even the heart, according to a 2012 survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Yet feet rank lowest on the list of body parts and functions that Americans consider important to their health, the APMA study shows.
Additionally, many Americans don’t seek foot care from a podiatrist—a doctor specially trained to care for feet. “Foot health directly affects the quality of our lives,” says Julaine Miller, DPM, a podiatrist at Cornerstone Foot & Ankle. “When our feet are healthy, feeling good, and working well, they can enable us to go about our normal routines. But injured, ill, or just plain sore feet can undermine the foundation of our good health.”
Feet are often indicators of our overall health; signs of arthritis, diabetes, and nerve and circulatory problems can all be detected in the feet. People suffering from foot pain are also more likely to suffer from a variety of other health issues, including back, knee, and joint pain, and weight and heart problems.
So how do you know if your foot pain is just annoying, or serious enough to merit a visit to a podiatrist? “Persistent pain or sudden, severe pain should definitely raise warning bells,” says Dr. Miller. “Beyond that, keep in mind that there are many sources of foot pain, and many foot ailments that can be treated best by a podiatrist.” These conditions can include:
- athlete’s foot
- bunions—an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe
- foot and ankle injuries
- heel pain, especially if it is chronic
- nail problems, including nail fungus
- peripheral arterial disease—a blockage or narrowing of the arteries in the legs
- pinched nerves
- skin cancer
- wounds or nerve damage due to diabetes
Today’s podiatrist is a true expert, trained to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and related structures of the leg. The country’s 15,000 practicing podiatrists work in a variety of disciplines, from sports medicine and pediatrics, to dermatology and diabetes. Podiatrists can:
- perform surgery;
- provide complete medical histories and physical exams;
- prescribe medicine;
- set breaks and treat sports-related injuries;
- prescribe and fit appliances, insoles, and custom-made shoes;
- order and provide physical therapy;
- order and interpret X-rays and other imaging scans; and
- work as a member of your health-care team
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