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Keeping your feet healthy

What you don’t know about your podiatrist

Created date

June 19th, 2012

Taking good care of your feet is something you may not think about, especially if you are dealing with medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, says Dimitri Cefalu. M.D., medical director at , an Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J. But in the big picture, foot health is essential for a good quality of life. Enter your podiatrist a licensed medical professional who can be board certified in his or her specialty. Podiatrists start with a four-year college degree, says Lloyd Bowser, D.P.M., podiatrist at Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. After that, we must pass a medical school admission test to gain entrance to podiatry school, which is also four years of training. Then we complete a residency in a particular area such as biomechanics, orthopedics, surgery, or a combination of these specialties.

Why go to a podiatrist?

Podiatrists are an essential part of your health care team, Cefalu says. Normal aging wear and tear, neuropathy, and circulation problems can cause a variety of foot problems such as fungal nail infections, callouses, deformities, or pain. Foot or toe pain may be the result of improperly fitting shoes. I find that most patients haven t had their feet measured in a long time, Bowser says. Your shoe size can change, or what s a size eight for one manufacturer may differ from a size eight designed by another company. Pain may also be the result of a major structural problem such as a bunion or hammertoe. Some people hesitate to see a podiatrist because they think surgery is their only treatment option for these types of problems but we may be able to suggest conservative measures such as special therapeutic shoes, inserts, padding, or taping. What may seem like a minor problem to you may need a podiatrist s evaluation and treatment. Ingrown toenails, for instance, can cause infections and pain. Many people qualify through Medicare or other insurances to have their toenails clipped regularly by a podiatrist, usually because of certain medical conditions such as diabetes or peripheral vascular disease, Bowser says. Some people just don t have the flexibility to do it themselves. Foot fungus, nail fungus, corns, and callouses should all be assessed by a podiatrist, especially before you try to treat them yourself. Over-the-counter antifungals may not be effective, and corn and callous formulations may cause chemical burns.

They can do that?

Podiatrists can provide comprehensive wound care if you have a non-healing cut or ulcer, and along with simple foot procedures, some can perform surgical procedures all the way up to the ankle, Bowser says. Your podiatrist may be able to see things you can t, especially if your feet are showing the first signs of a serious medical condition. Numbness or tingling may indicate neuropathy, which could be a sign of diabetes or circulation problems, Bowser says. And your feet are not immune to skin cancer. I ve taken biopsies of many kinds of skin cancers, including melanoma, which may initially appear as a small discoloration. In the field of biomechanics, podiatrists are the number one experts. Biomechanics is the study of how the body moves from one point to another, Bowser explains. We can detect problems that occur because of your gait, and make recommendations to help correct them. Balance may be one of these gait problems and can result in a fall. One in three adults over 65 falls each year, and death rates from falls have increased sharply over the past several years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many conditions can contribute to balance problems, Bowser explains, and they don t always start in your brain. Spinal stenosis, knee, hip, and foot problems, or neuropathies can cause you to walk differently, and also affect other areas of your body by causing added strain.

Taking care of your feet in between visits

Keep your feet clean and dry. Too many people wear stockings or socks made from synthetic fabrics that can promote the growth of fungus, says Bowser. Stick to breathable fabrics such as cotton. And if your feet sweat a lot, change your socks and shoes several times throughout the day. Dry skin can promote breakdown and infection. Apply a lotion every day, and avoid oily preparations because they can be too slippery, Bowser advises. Ask your podiatrist for a product recommendation. Most of all, if you don t already, see a podiatrist regularly. Healthy feet help you stay active, Cefalu adds. For your overall health, comfort, and safety, you need to take the health of your feet very seriously.