spend a great deal of time on their feet. As the nation becomes more
active across all age groups, the need for foot care will become
The human foot is a complex structure. It contains 26 bones -- plus
muscles, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels -- and is designed for
balance and mobility. The 52 bones in the feet make up about one-fourth
of all the bones in the human body. Podiatrists, also known as doctors
of podiatric medicine (DPMs), diagnose and treat disorders, diseases,
and injuries of the foot and lower leg.
Podiatrists treat corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, heel
spurs, and arch problems; ankle and foot injuries, deformities, and
infections; and foot complaints associated with diabetes and other
diseases. To treat these problems, podiatrists prescribe drugs and
physical therapy, set fractures, and perform surgery. They also fit
corrective shoe inserts called orthotics, design plaster casts and
strappings to correct deformities, and design custom-made shoes.
Podiatrists may use a force plate or scanner to help design the
orthotics: patients walk across a plate connected to a computer that
"reads" their feet, picking up pressure points and weight distribution.
From the computer readout, podiatrists order the correct design or
recommend another kind of treatment.
diagnose a foot problem, podiatrists also order x-rays and laboratory
tests. The foot may be the first area to show signs of serious
conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. For example,
patients with diabetes are prone to foot ulcers and infections because
of poor circulation. Podiatrists consult with and refer patients to
other health practitioners when they detect symptoms of these disorders.
Most podiatrists have a solo practice, although more are forming
group practices with other podiatrists or health practitioners. Some
specialize in surgery, orthopedics, primary care, or public health.
Besides these board-certified specialties, podiatrists may practice
other specialties, such as sports medicine, pediatrics, dermatology,
radiology, geriatrics, or diabetic foot care.
Podiatrists who are in private practice are responsible for running a
small business. They may hire employees, order supplies, and keep
records, among other tasks. In addition, some educate the community on
the benefits of foot care through speaking engagements and advertising.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.